Migrant Rights Protection

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 


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.