Tensions over Migrant workers

Updated On: Dec 12, 2007

Migrant workers play an important role in the regional economies.

MalaysiaSingapore and Thailand rely heavily on migrant workers from neighbouring countries for their economic development. Countries like IndonesiaMyanmar and the Philippines are the main labour exporting countries within ASEAN.

The economic role of migrant workers is likely to increase with the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 when the ASEAN members are supposed to liberalise the movement of skilled labour within the region. ASEAN members have also committed to establishing and promoting legal protection of these migrant workers.

Nonetheless, these migrant workers often get a raw deal. A project coordinator, Andy Hall who works in a non-governmental organisation, Making Migrant Safety at Work Matter (MMSAWM) in Thailandnoted that occupational safety and health (OSH) doesn't exist for migrant workers particularly those from Myanmar. Despite the fact that the labour law in Thailand is applicable to migrant workers, enforcement has been weak.

For all the economic benefits that migrant workers bring to their host economies, these workers are viewed with suspicion. They tend to be blamed for rising crime rates. Migrant workers are often arrested by police when they do not have their official registration at hand even though some employers keep these documents. 

Stories of abuse of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia are common in the Indonesian media. In October, the Economist published an article saying that there was no love lost between the two countries. Then bilateral ties were tense with anti-Malaysian riots in August after two Indonesians, one of whom was a wife of a diplomat, were allegedly mistreated by Rela, a volunteer force used by the Malaysian government to monitor illegal migrant workers. 

The poor treatment of these migrant workers has led to inter-state tensions between the labour importing and labour exporting countries. For instance, a number of Malaysia’s Khazanah -controlled companies have come under close scrutiny under Indonesian regulators, possibly due to Malaysia’s alleged ill-treatment of Indonesian migrant workers. Telekom Malaysia, which controls mobile operator PT Excelcomindo and CIMB Bank have had their Indonesian business contracts come under review.

The issue of migrant workers has also created difficulty between Japan and the Philippines, delaying the ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.   (10 December 2007)


Politics behind review of Jakarta deals (Straits Times, 10 December 2007)

Migrants Short-Shifted On OSH (Bangkok Post, 9 December 2007)

Revolving Through A Broken System(Bangkok Post, 9 December 2007)

Neighbours helping to blow the whistle on maid abusers(Straits Times, 9 December 2007)

ASEAN charter protects Filipino migrant workers (BusinessWorld, 20 November 2007)

Side agreement would aid bid to ratify RP-Japan deal (BusinessWorld, 13 November 2007)

Malaysian Immigration Should Stop Illegal Indonesian Workers To Enter The Country (Antara, 11 November 2007)

Domestic workers take the hard way home (Jakarta Post, 12 November 2007)

No brotherly love - Indonesia and Malaysia (The Economist, 13 October 2007)