Migrant Labour Rights Protection Program

Services in Case Management and Legal Redress, Training of Community Leaders, Partnership and Advocacy Campaign



Our work with the migrant workers began since the early 1980s. 

As the country's economy experiences rapid growth at that time, there was a significant shift seen in the labour market. Malaysian women were leaving their families to earn an income, and rural workers were moving into the urban areas for better opportunities. The shift created gaps and new demands in the labour market which needed to be filled. As the demand for workers increased, Malaysia opened the doors for the recruitment of foreign workers. Migrant workers were then brought into the country by the masses. There were over 2 million migrant workers: 1.5 million from Indonesia, 100,000 from Bangladesh, and approximately 25,000 Filipina workers. 

In 1983, large numbers of Filipino domestic workers were taken in to assist families with working parents. Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers were employed to fill the labour gaps in different industries - namely construction and manufacturing.




In 1993, Tenaganita started the migrants' desk. As a grassroot organisation, our work then were much focused on case management.

Many workers were confined to their workplace: locked up in factories and imprisoned in homes. Our outreach work gave us first-hand evidences of the violations migrant workers were facing in their respective work sectors. From our outreach work with the communities, we documented significant number of cases of: 

  • cheat and fraud by agents and employers; 
  • exploitations and abuses; 
  • occupational and industrial accidents, 
  • detention of migrant workers;
  • as well as denial of basic labour protection. 

We provided legal counselling and legal support.


In 1994, we partnered with academicians in conducting research to further strengthen our work. The first was a participatory research on "HIV/AIDS and Mobility" with the Filipina domestic workers. 

Migrants were found to be less interested in discussing health or HIV/AIDs, but were heavily concerned about the issue of arrest, detention, and deportation; and other forms of exploitation against them. Our investigation gave us an extensive documentation of ill-treatment, sexual abuse, denial of medical care, malnutrition and series of deaths of migrant workers in detention centers. A memorandum detailing our findings were circulated, calling for an open investigation into these allegations. 


Tenaganita has since extended the work from case handling to advocacy with the government and sending countries.


How It Evolved

Desperate to repay debts from the high recruitment agency fees and under financial pressure from their families back home, migrant workers were highly vulnerable to exploitation by employers and recruitment agents. Many suffer non-payment of wages, abuse, serious injuries and even death at the hands of their employers. Additionally, more than 1,000 foreign workers have died from accidents, illnesses and suicide in Malaysia. This appallingly high number demonstrates the severity of the conditions faced by migrant workers.

Tenaganita had multiple discussions with the Malaysian government and governments from the sending countries.


In 2002, a regional conference was held in Colombo - where UN agencies, domestic workers, NGO partners, academicians, governments, ILO came together to discuss the discriminations against migrant domestic workers. Arising from the conference, recommendations were made to the governments for domestic workers to be recognised as workers, and for the inclusion of domestic work in national labour legislations in accordance to international labour standards. Emerging from that, the Colombo Declaration was produced.


With the vast movement in migration within the region, we saw the need for collective effort in addressing issues pertaining to migration, health and HIV/AIDS. A regional organisation embodied by 9 regional partners, known as CARAM Asia, was then officially registered in 2007. One of the main focuses of CARAM Asia was the unique situation faced by domestic workers. 

Needs Today

Malaysia is the largest importer of labour in Asia, where migrant workers provide cheap labour in construction, manufacturing and plantation industries. We have workers coming from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Cambodia, India and Indonesia.


Representing a large portion of Tenaganita's daily work, the program encompasses:

              ● Services in Case Management and Legal Redress

              ● Training of Community Leaders

              ● Partnership Nationally, Regionally and Internationally 

              ● Advocacy Campaign for Domestic Workers 

Case Management
Community Leaders Training
Rights on Occupational Safety and Health
Domestic Workers Campaign

One of the most prominent issues for migrant, refugee and worker communities in Malaysia is their lack of access to legal services with which to defend their rights and interests. A substantial amount of migrant’s rights violations cases are subsequently referred to Tenaganita involving migrants from various sectors, ranging from unpaid wages to domestic work to physical abuse in the fishing sector. Working alongside the Malaysian Bar council, Tenaganita is able to provide teams of lawyers to handle such cases, ensuring that proper cases are opened, documentation filed and relevant actors met/spoken with in order to assist migrants who have had injustices carried out against them.

While Tenaganita offers legal services to those in need, the organisation quickly realized that the need for legal redress required expansion beyong its existing capacity. In order to address this issue, Tenaganita began to develop programmes alongside John Hopkins University to train leaders in migrant communities, imparting the skills and education needed to address their own issues. 

To date, almost 200 peer leaders have been trained by Tenaganita to address Labour Rights, Case Management Skills for evidence gathering, Leadership Development, Arrests & Detentions and Rights to Health. Leaders from Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh communities received training, while training manuals designed by Tenaganita and JHU were distributed to participants, allowing them to administer what they learned to their peers. 

After the completion of the program, participants are given follow-up meetings on how they have implemented the knowledge and skills they obtained from the training. Many leaders have successfully utilized the knowledge and skills from the training to manage cases and have since referred many cases to Tenaganita and currently assist the organisation in handling them. The training has increased awareness to migrants of their rights, which has successfully produced more competent and committed peer leaders. Lastly, Tenaganita staff also hold regular meetings with peer leaders of each community to assist them in case management and to record their progress, ensuring close connections between trained individuals, affected communities and the processing of information regarding the efficacy of the organisation's efforts.

Tenaganita has produced informational pamphlets concerning workers’ rights to health, migrant rights and arrest/detention pamphlets to be distributed to community leaders and migrants, which have been translated into Nepali, Bengali, Indonesian and  Burmese for easy dissemination. In addition to awareness campaigns, special training on Occupational Safety and Health was catered to train migrants on worker rights and personal safety/protection. Through training, Tenaganita has been advocating for migrants participation in workplace OSH committee, entitled to the same protections as other workers under existing and future labour laws.

An often forgotten yet highly prevalent form of employment in Malaysia comes in the form of Domestic Work, which consists of cooking, cleaning and other forms of household labour. Currently, domestic workers are not recognized as legitimate workers under Malaysian law, and thus are denied the same rights, labour standards and access to legal redress that other sectors have. Most domestic workers in Malaysia are trafficked persons who end up employed in homes without proper living conditions available for them, have their wages and documents withheld, lack a paid day off, and suffer food deprivation and physical and mental abuses. There are even cases where domestic workers work for as long as 2 years without wages! To combat this, a coalition of supportive NGOs, CBOs and FBOs including Tenaganita established a campaign for Domestic Workers, which was designed to recognize their rights as workers under the law. The continued pressure from the coalition has resulted in the development of new, separate legislation for Domestic Workers based on ILO Convention 189; a marked step forward for the campaign.


The demands of the campaign are as follows:

● To include domestic work under the current national labour laws of both origin and destination countries, or introduce a Domestic Worker’s Act specifically protecting the rights of domestic workers. ● In the absence of labour laws safeguarding domestic workers; rights, to have the States insure that a weekly day off for domestic workers is guaranteed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), standard employment contracts, or other guidelines.

● To establish mechanisms or a government body to monitor the implementation of a weekly day off and provide domestic workers access to redress in the event their right to a day off is violated.

● To have the States ensure that domestic workers' basic human and labour rights, such as overtime, adequate rest periods, nutritious meals, privacy and safety are protected and realised in both origin and destination countries.



As we listen to the silenced voices of our communities, we began to identify the gaps which exist. We have different specific and dedicated programmes which are built from and developed through the needs of the communities we work with.

Connect with us

If you would like to keep up to date with our work, you may provide us your details as below

Meet With Us
12, Jalan 6/11
46000 Petaling Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
+603 7770 3671 / 3691
+6012 335 0512, +6012 339 5350