Practical steps for businesses to implement the ethical recruitment and management of migrant workers

Published on 9 Jan 2024, last updated on 2 Feb 2024

Implementing ethical recruitment practices within supply chains can pose a significant challenge for Malaysian businesses. Despite being aware of the increasing legal and policy mandates emphasising the importance of ethical recruitment, businesses may encounter difficulties in achieving compliance. At Pinkcollar, we believe that there are practical and “common-sense” steps that businesses can start implementing as they take time to address and integrate more complex practices into their operations.

As a major industry employing migrant workers, this article centres on pragmatic measures that Malaysian manufacturers can begin adopting ethical recruitment practices. Some of the practical steps below are adopted from the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines.


Transparent Job Postings

A lot of times, migrant workers come over to Malaysia not having a clear understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and working conditions. Lured in by unrealistic promises and vague descriptions by agents, migrant workers arrive in Malaysia unaware of their actual responsibilities, wages and working conditions, leaving them susceptible to exploitation, manipulation, and even forced labour. They may face pay discrepancies, dangerous tasks, or work longer hours than promised, impacting their health, safety and financial well-being.

This, in return, can lead to businesses experiencing a high turnover rate of workers as transparency builds trust. As a business, by clearly showcasing what you offer, you attract qualified candidates who are less likely to leave due to mismatched expectations. A stable, satisfied workforce translates to higher productivity and lower training cost.

Here is what you can do:

  • Be clear and accurate about job duties, responsibilities, qualifications, and wages. Post vacancies specifying wages, working hours, time off, overtime rates, assembly line tasks, quality control checks, safety protocols, and clear requirements for technical skills and experience.
  • Work with a translator to have job descriptions translated into languages common among your target workforce.
  • Avoid making promises you can't keep, like guaranteed overtime or promotions.

Did you know? Just in May 2023, Reuters reported on hundreds of Bangladeshi and Nepali migrants in Malaysia, who were stranded without work for months after failing to find jobs promised to them by recruitment agents in exchange for thousands of dollars in fees. This article underscores the importance of transparent job postings.


Familiarise yourself with relevant laws and regulations

There are a range of legal instruments that regulate the recruitment and employment of migrant workers in Malaysia. The main labour law is the Employment Act of 1955 outlining the minimum legal standards for all workers in Malaysia, ensuring equal labor protections for both migrant and Malaysian workers. Additionally, there are other supporting acts, including the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act of 1966, the Factories and Machinery Act of 1967, the Employees’ Social Security Act of 1969, the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act of 1990, the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1994, and the National Wages Consultative Council Act of 2011.

Additionally, employers must also adhere to the Passports Act of 1966, which forbids them from retaining workers' passports.

It can be daunting having to comb through so many acts and labour laws to ensure that your business is compliant with laws and regulations, when it comes to hiring migrant workers ethically.

Here is what you can do to remain compliant:

  • Hire a dedicated consultant or HR personnel to ensure that your business is compliant with the necessary laws and regulations to hire ethically.
  • Conduct regular training sessions for your HR personnel, managers, and employees to keep them updated on the latest employment laws, regulations, and anti-trafficking policies.
  • Work with a trusted, reputable ethical recruitment agency to assist you in your hiring process.
  • Maintain accurate and comprehensive records related to the recruitment and employment of migrant workers. This includes employment contracts, work permits, and any other relevant documentation. Having organised records facilitates easier compliance checks and audits.
  • Participate in industry associations, forums, or networks like The Institute for Human Rights and Business and the Responsible Business Alliance that focus on ethical employment practices. Collaborate with other businesses to share best practices, insights, and challenges related to the recruitment and employment of migrant workers.
  • Conduct regular internal audits to ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations. Review your recruitment, employment, and management processes to identify any potential gaps or areas for improvement.
  • Consider engaging external auditors or legal experts to conduct periodic audits of your company's compliance with labour laws. External perspectives can provide valuable insights and ensure a more thorough evaluation.

It is crucial for businesses to comply with laws and regulations as laws and regulations are designed to guide businesses in setting standards for ethical conduct. While current enforcement might not be robust, adherence to law and regulations isn’t just about avoiding penalties, it’s also about building a sustainable and responsible business that can remain competitive for the long run. As Malaysia progresses, regulations and enforcement are bound to become stricter, businesses that proactively embrace ethical practices and compliance will be prepared for this shift, while those lagging behind will face increasing challenges and penalties.


Continuously communicate with your foreign workforce

Entering a foreign country can be challenging, especially for workers experiencing life outside their home countries for the first time. The transition involves not only adapting to a new city and culture but also acclimating to a different language and unfamiliar surroundings, all while being distanced from loved ones. Continuous communication helps workers navigate and understand cultural nuances, workplace expectations and societal norms, easing their integration process.

Here is what you can do:

  • Designate committed worker representatives for each country to serve as direct points of contact. Empower them to promptly address concerns, provide regular updates on policies and events, and ensure they receive training in cultural sensitivity and company policies for effective support.
  • Recognise the importance of cultural integration and provide assistance as needed. Worker representatives can play a vital role in helping newcomers understand local customs, traditions, and navigating the intricacies of daily life in a new country.
  • Schedule routine check-ins with workers to create a platform for open communication. These check-ins can be conducted through various channels such as virtual meetings, surveys, or one-on-one discussions, allowing workers to express their concerns and share their experiences.
  • Acknowledge the language barrier and offer language support services. This could include language training programs, translation services, or providing resources that help workers enhance their language skills, contributing to better communication in the workplace.
  • Establish a feedback mechanism for workers to share their thoughts on the effectiveness of communication and the support provided by the representatives. This helps in continually improving the communication strategy and ensuring that workers feel heard and valued.
  • Foster a supportive environment among workers by encouraging peer support. Worker representatives can facilitate connections among employees, creating a network where individuals can share experiences and offer assistance to one another.

hInstead of developing communication and grievance mechanisms tool from scratch, consider using other platforms such as the JustGoodWork app. It offers a confidential third-party grievance mechanism, serviced by a local migrant worker NGO, Our Journey, and provides other meaningful resources for migrant workers and businesses.


4. Soft skills training

While workers typically receive training before commencing their contracts in Malaysia, a notable gap exists as most training centers predominantly focus on hard skills. At Pinkcollar, we've firsthand observed that soft skills training is equally crucial. Given the complexities of Malaysian work environments, workers are often susceptible to scams, including love and financial fraud, drawn by the prospect of higher earnings for their families. Therefore, beyond technical competencies, it's crucial to train workers in resilience, awareness, and critical thinking, equipping them with tools to navigate the intricacies of the Malaysian work environment, ensuring their well-being and fostering a secure professional journey.

Here is what you can do:

  • Establish an in-house holistic training program that incorporates both hard and soft skills. This training programme should not only equip the workers with technical competencies, but also with resilience, communication skills and cultural awareness. If the HR team at your organisation isn’t able to do this, feel free to contact us for assistance
  • Organise regular awareness sessions to educate workers about common Malaysian scams, such as love scams and financial fraud. Provide practical guidance on how to recognise and avoid such situations, emphasising the importance of personal and financial security. As a business, you might not have a complete understanding of the scams that migrant workers may encounter. Recognising this, it is important to seek insights and stay informed about the evolving landscape of scams, ensuring that your training and support programs remain relevant and effective in safeguarding the well-being of your workforce. This may involve collaborating with NGOs like ProjectLiber8 and North South Initiative to run awareness programmes with your worker groups.
  • Integrate financial literacy training into the program, empowering workers with the knowledge and skills to manage their finances wisely. This can include understanding basic financial concepts, creating budgets, and discerning legitimate financial opportunities.

Every business has a unique workforce makeup, with a unique blend of resources and constraints. As you begin your ethical recruitment journey, consider starting small and adapting the steps above based on what your company can afford and realistically implement. The key is to begin and focus on the spirit of ethical recruitment: all migrant workers should have access to safe and dignified jobs, free from forced labour, human trafficking and exploitative work conditions. If you're an SME hiring just 10 migrant workers, you can already implement multiple actions above, albeit at a reduced scale.

Pinkcollar Consultation

We hope that these guidelines are helpful as you consider ethical recruitment for your company. If you require additional assistance or wish to schedule a consultation, Pinkcollar would be happy to assist. Please feel free to reach out to us!

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