Legal Reforms in Protecting Migrant Workers’ Welfare in Malaysia: Labor Law and Social Security




forced labor, labor law, migrant worker, social security, worker accommodation


This article examines how Malaysia has sought to improve migrant workers’ welfare through the revision of its labor laws. Migrant workers’ welfare in Malaysia has been hindered by the absence of social security frameworks, outdated labor laws, multiple dependence on labor intermediaries, and employers’ lack of accountability. In 2019, two labor laws were amended based on International Labor Organization standards: the Workers’ Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities Act (1990) and the Employees’ Social Security Act (1969). The amendments have equalized the statutory protection between national and migrant workers, increased employers’ accountability for their migrant workers’ welfare, and addressed forced labor. With this legal framework, Malaysia’s migration management has been associated with better social security protection for migrant workers, which was previously absent from foreign worker policies. The legal reforms indicate the government’s attempt in solving the tension in Malaysia’s migration management, by ensuring balance between migrants’ welfare, labor market needs, and immigration control. These observations and analysis draw upon legislations, federal government gazettes, Hansard records, official reports of intergovernmental organizations, press statements of civil society actors, online newspapers, and secondary literature.

Author Biography

Choo Chin Low, Universiti Sains Malaysia

Low Choo Chin is a senior lecturer in the History Section, School of Distance Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang. She holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include comparative citizenship, migration, and diaspora studies. Her recent publications appeared in Journal of International Migration and Integration, Southeast Asian Studies, Citizenship Studies, Diaspora Studies, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, Regions & Cohesion, Journal of Historical Sociology, Europe-Asia Studies, and Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. She serves as a country expert for the Global Citizenship Observatory. 


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How to Cite

Low, C. C. (2021). Legal Reforms in Protecting Migrant Workers’ Welfare in Malaysia: Labor Law and Social Security. Advances in Southeast Asian Studies, 14(1), 59–80.



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