Malaysia

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government. State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership. Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer. There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights. Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral. Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default. Malaysia ranks 33rd (ranked 29th in 2019) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2020 report, right behind Austria and ahead of Finland, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

Intellectual Property Rights

Malaysia is not currently listed in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report. Its Petaling Street Market is listed in 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy (the Notorious Markets List). The overhaul of IPR protections that began in 2019 under the previous government continued in 2020 despite political uncertainty. Following Malaysia’s 2019 Trademarks Act, which brought protections in line with the Madrid Protocol, Malaysia amended its 1987 Copyright Act as part of an ongoing review of its IPR framework. New trademark provisions came into force on July 1, 2020 to strengthen copyright protection by creating an alternative avenue for dispute resolution by tribunal. Malaysia continues to assess its Copyright Act and has indicated it is considering additional amendments to further strengthen IPR protections. There is not yet an official determination of whether Malaysia will ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); therefore, it remains unclear whether these legislative amendments will incorporate the IP-related provisions of the CPTPP.

Malaysia has a mixed but improving record of IPR enforcement, particularly for online services that stream illegal sports content. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission proactively combats illegal streaming sites that provide content in violation of copyright laws and acts against owners of non-certified Android TV boxes being used to stream illegal content. Malaysian enforcement authorities registered their first case related to infringing streaming devices under the Copyright Act, which was brought to court on February 8. Malaysia also increased its blocking of illegal streaming sites by over 900 percent over the past three years.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain. There is relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia and there are concerns that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMC) is not always effectively identifying counterfeit goods in transit.

Malaysia’s 2017 compulsory license for U.S. Gilead Sciences’ sofosbuvir, a major intellectual property-related concern in recent years, expired in 2020. Malaysia has not indicated it intends to renew the compulsory license or a government manufacturing contract for the drug, both of which expired in October 2020. Malaysia has now registered Gilead’s sofosbuvir product, Sovaldi, for local use and offers fast-track registration with the Ministry of Health for new products under Gilead’s voluntary license program. Two Indian-manufactured sofosbuvir generics granted voluntary license agreements by Gilead Sciences have already made use of this registration program with Malaysia’s Drug Control Authority.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Foreigners may trade in securities and derivatives. Malaysia houses one of Asia’s largest corporate bond markets and is the largest sukuk (Islamic bond) market in East Asia. Both domestic and foreign companies regularly access capital in Malaysia’s bond market. Malaysia provides tax incentives for foreign companies issuing Islamic bonds and financial instruments in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s stock market (Bursa Malaysia) is open to foreign investment and foreign corporation issuing shares. However, foreign issuers remain subject to Bumiputera ownership requirements of 12.5 percent if the majority of their operations are in Malaysia. Listing requirements for foreign companies are similar to that of local companies, although foreign companies must also obtain approval of regulatory authorities of foreign jurisdiction where the company was incorporated and valuation of assets that are standards applied in Malaysia or International Valuation Standards and register with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 1965 or 2016.

Malaysia has taken steps to promote good corporate governance by listed companies. Publicly listed companies must submit quarterly reports that include a balance sheet and income statement within two months of each financial quarter’s end and audited annual accounts for public scrutiny within four months of each year’s end. An individual may hold up to 25 corporate directorships. All public and private company directors are required to attend classes on corporate rules and regulations.

Legislation also regulates equity buybacks, mandates book entry of all securities transfers, and requires that all owners of securities accounts be identified. A Central Depository System (CDS) for stocks and bonds established in 1991 makes physical possession of certificates unnecessary. All shares traded on the Bursa Malaysia must be deposited in the CDS. Short selling of stocks is prohibited.

Money and Banking System

International investors generally regard Malaysia’s banking sector as dynamic and well regulated. Although privately owned banks are competitive with state-owned banks, the state-owned banks dominate the market. The five largest banks – Maybank, CIMB, Public Bank, RHB, and AmBank – account for an estimated 75 percent of banking sector loans. According to the World Bank, total banking sector lending for 2019 was 120.8 percent of GDP, and 1.5 percent of the Malaysian banking sector’s loans were non-performing for 2019.

Bank Negara prohibits hostile takeovers of banks, but the Securities Commission has established non-discriminatory rules and disclosure requirements for hostile takeovers of publicly traded companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In December 2016, the central bank, began implementing new foreign exchange management requirements. Under the policy, exporters are required to convert 75 percent of their export earnings into Malaysian ringgit. The goal of this policy was to deepen the market for the currency, with the goal of reducing exchange rate volatility. The policy remains in place, with the Central Bank giving case-by-case exceptions. All domestic trade in goods and services must be transacted in ringgit only, with no optional settlement in foreign currency. The Central Bank has demonstrated little flexibility with respect to the ratio of earnings that exporters hold in ringgit. Post is unaware of any instances where the requirement for exporters to hold their earnings in ringgit has impeded their ability to remit profits to headquarters.

Remittance Policies

Malaysia imposes few investment remittances rules on resident companies. Incorporated and individual U.S. investors have not raised concerns about their ability to transfer dividend payments, loan payments, royalties or other fees to home offices or U.S.-based accounts. Tax advisory firms and consultancies have not flagged payments as a significant concern among U.S. or foreign investors in Malaysia. Foreign exchange administration policies place no foreign currency asset limits on firms that have no ringgit-denominated debt. Companies that fund their purchases of foreign exchange assets with either onshore or offshore foreign exchange holdings, whether or not such companies have ringgit-denominated debt, face no limits in making remittances. However, a company with ringgit-denominated debt will need approval from the Central Bank for conversions of RM50 million or more into foreign exchange assets in a calendar year.

The Treasury Department has not identified Malaysia as a currency manipulator.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Malaysian Government established government-linked investment companies (GLICs) as vehicles to harness revenue from commodity-based industries and promote growth in strategic development areas. Khazanah is the largest of the GLICs, and the company holds equity in a range of domestic firms as well as investments outside Malaysia. The other GLICs – Armed Forces Retirement Fund (LTAT), National Capital (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pilgrimage Fund (Tabung Haji), Public Employees Retirement Fund (KWAP) – execute similar investments but are structured as savings vehicles for Malaysians. Khazanah follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the International Forum on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Khazanah was incorporated in 1993 under the Companies Act of 1965 as a public limited company with a charter to promote growth in strategic industries and national initiatives. As of December 31, 2020, Khazanah’s “realizable” assets stood at RM95.3 billion as compared to RM136 billion in 2019. Its profit from operations fell to RM2.9 billion in 2020 as compared to RM7.4 billion in 2019. Dividend income from investee companies rose to RM5.2 billion from RM3.8 billion According to its Annual Review 2020 presentation, Khazanah’s priorities, going forward, include further enhancing commercial returns, delivering impactful value through strategic investments, becoming a responsible organization through embedding ESG considerations across all investment activities, building a strong digital and technology foundation. https://www.khazanah.com.my/our-performance/khazanah-annual-review-2021/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises which in Malaysia are called government-linked companies (GLCs), play a very significant role in the Malaysian economy. Such enterprises have been used to spearhead infrastructure and industrial projects. A 2017 analysis by the University of Malaya estimated that the government owns approximately 42 percent of the value of firms listed on the Bursa Malaysia through its seven Government-Linked Investment Corporations (GLICs), including a majority stake in a number of companies. Only a minority portion of stock is available for trading for some of the largest publicly listed local companies. Khazanah, often considered the government’s sovereign wealth fund, owns stakes in companies competing in many of the country’s major industries including aerospace, construction, energy, finance, information & communication, and marine technologies. The Prime Minister chairs Khazanah’s Board of Directors. PETRONAS, the state-owned oil and gas company, is Malaysia’s only Fortune Global 500 firm.

As part of its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program, the Malaysian Government embarked on a two-pronged strategy to reduce its shares across a range of companies and to make those companies more competitive through improved corporate governance. The Transformation Program pushes for more independent and professionalized board membership, but the OECD noted in 2018 that in practice shareholder oversight is lax and government officials exert influence over corporate boards.

Among the notable divestments of recent years, Khazanah offloaded its stake in the national car company Proton to DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012. In 2013, Khazanah divested its holdings in telecommunications services giant Time Engineering Bhd. Khazanah’s annual report for 2017 noted only that the fund had completed 12 divestments that produced a gain of RM 2.5 billion (USD 625 million). In 2018, Khazanah partially divested its shares in IHH Healthcare Berhad, saw two successful IPOs, and issued USUSD 321 million in exchangeable sukuk. However, significant losses at domestic companies including at Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, IHH Healthcare Berhad, CIMB Bank, and Malaysia Airports led to the pre-tax loss of USD 1.52 billion the company experienced in 2018. In April 2019, Khazanah sold 1.5 percent of its stake in Tenaga Nasional on Bursa Malaysia, after which Khazanah still owned 27.27 percent of the national electric company. In its annual review for 2020, Khazanah posted lower divestment gains of RM2.7 billion (USD675 million) compared to RM9.9 billion (USD2.25 billion) in 2019.

Reference: https://www.khazanah.com.my/news_press_releases/khazanah-annual-review-2021/ 

GLCs with publicly traded shares must produce audited financial statements every year. These SOEs must also submit filings related to changes in the organization’s management. The SOEs that do not offer publicly traded shares are required to submit annual reports to the Companies Commission. The requirement for publicly reporting the financial standing and scope of activities of SOEs has increased their transparency. It is also consistent with the OECD’s guideline for Transparency and Disclosure. Moreover, many SOEs prioritize operations that maximize their earnings.

The close relationships SOEs have with senior government officials, however, blur the line between strictly commercial activity pursued for its own sake and activity that has been directed to advance a policy interest. For example, Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) is both an SOE in the oil and gas sector and the regulator of the industry. Malaysia Airlines (MAS), in which the government previously held 70 percent but now holds 100 percent, required periodic infusions of resources from the government to maintain the large numbers of company’s staff and senior executives.

The Ministry of Finance holds significant minority stakes in five companies including a 50% stake in the financial guarantee insurer Danajamin Nasional Berhad. The government also holds a golden share in 32 companies from key industries such as aerospace, marine technology, energy industries and ports. The Ministry of Finance maintains a list of 70 companies directly controlled by the Minister of Finance Incorporated, known as MOF Inc, the largest Government Linked Investment Company (GLIC). The seven GLICs in Malaysia are also listed. However, a comprehensive list of the more than 200 GLCs that are controlled by these seven investment companies is not readily available. For more information, please visit: https://www.mof.gov.my/index.php/en/profile/divisions/government-investment-companies. Links to the sources of regulation and authorities can be found here:

With formal and informal ties between board members and government, Malaysian SOEs (GLCs) may have access to capital and financial protection from bankruptcy as well as reduced pressure to deliver profits to government shareholders. The legal framework establishing GLCs under Malaysian law specifically seeks economic opportunity for Bumiputera entrepreneurs. There is some empirical evidence, published by the Asian Development Bank, that SOEs crowd out private investment in Malaysia.

Malaysia participates in OECD corporate governance engagements and continues to work on full adherence to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs through its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program. The National Resource Governance Institute’s Resource Governance Index rates Malaysia as weak on governance of its oil and gas sector; however, Malaysia also ranks as 27th among 89 rated countries, in the top third.

Privatization Program

In several key sectors, including transportation, agriculture, utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and construction, Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) continue to dominate the market. However, the Malaysian Government remains publicly committed to the continued, eventual privatization, though it has not set a timeline for the process and faces substantial political pressure to preserve the roles of the GLCs. The Malaysian Government established the Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) in 2009 to provide guidance and administrative support to businesses interested in privatization projects as well as large-scale government procurement projects. UKAS, which used to be a part of the Office of the Prime Minister, is now under the Ministry of Finance. UKAS oversees transactions ranging from contracts and concessions to sales and transfers of ownership from the public sector to the private sector.

Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs, but foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent of the privatized entity’s equity. The National Development Policy confers preferential treatment to the Bumiputera, which are entitled to at least 30 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.

The privatization process is formally subject to public bidding. However, the lack of transparency has led to criticism that the government’s decisions tend to favor individuals and businesses with close ties to high-ranking officials.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The development of RBC programs in Malaysia has transformed from a government-led initiative into a concept embraced by the private sector. Through the efforts of the Bursa Malaysia and other governmental bodies, awareness of corporate responsibility now exists across wide swathes of the private sector in Malaysia.

The government initially viewed RBC through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic activities. In 2006, the Malaysian Securities Commission published a CSR framework for all publicly listed companies (PLCs), which are required to disclose their CSR programs in their annual financial reports. In 2007, the Women, Family and Community Ministry launched the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards to encourage the spread of CSR programs, and to honor those companies whose commitment to CSR had made a difference in their respective communities.

Presently, the government through the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives has the Protégé – Ready to Work Program Rules 2021 which allow companies participating in this [program to claim a double tax deduction on certain expenditure incurred on a trainee (Malaysian citizen graduate who is unemployed or under an employment which does not commensurate with his qualification).

The Business Council for Sustainable Development Malaysia (BCSDM) (formerly known as the Board for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia) also supplanted the Institute for Corporate Responsibility Malaysia as the focal point for the country’s RBC programs. This was an important development on the road to meeting international norms, as BCSDM is the local affiliate of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and aims to meet the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, BCSDM has laid out its own Vision 2050 plan, which aims to facilitate an improvement in global living standards through the implementation of a series of environmentally responsible steps.

Bursa Malaysia spearheaded the drive of including Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues to enhance corporate accountability by launching the FTSE4Good Bursa Malaysia Index in 2014.This Index is composed of companies selected from the top 200 Malaysian stocks in the FTSE Bursa Malaysia EMAS Index. These companies are screened in accordance with transparent and defined ESG criteria, and the index provides an avenue for investors to make ESG-focused investments and increase ESG exposure in their investment portfolios, thereby putting indirect pressure on companies to behave more responsibly.

In a subsequent step in 2015, Bursa Malaysia launched a Sustainability Framework, which was comprised of amendments to the Listing Requirement (which all PLCs must meet), and the publication of a Sustainability Reporting Guide Toolkit. As part of their new responsibilities, PLCs were required to disclose sustainability statements in their annual reports, incorporating ESG issues related to their respective businesses. In 2018 Bursa Malaysia launched a 2nd edition of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include recommendations for PLCs regarding how to integrate sustainability into their businesses, and how to conduct more extensive reporting on material Economic, Environmental, and Social (EES) risks and opportunities.

In 2015, SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, published a framework for a national plan of action on business and human rights (BHR Framework). The goal of the BHR Framework was to facilitate the adoption and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by both state and non-state actors in Malaysia. Subsequent to the creation of the BHR Framework, Parliament passed an amended Companies Act in 2016, which included the optional disclosure of a business review, containing information about: (i) environmental matters, including the impact of the company’s business on the environment; (ii) the company’s employees; and (iii) social and community issues. In the wake of the Companies Act 2016, The Companies Commission of Malaysia similarly sought to push RBC, by developing a best practices circular that promotes adherence to international sustainability reporting standards. This circular endorses specific international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The push toward effectuating RBC by the government has not only involved human rights, but has also addressed environmental concerns. The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment & Climate Change (MESTECC) has published multiple roadmaps to that end, including: Green Technology Master Plan Malaysia 2017-2030; Malaysia’s Roadmap towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030; and National Energy Efficiency Master Plan. Despite the efforts across multiple ministries to emphasize RBC, there is nothing in Malaysia’s official procurement policy that mentions it as a factor in government contracting.

In September 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO), thereby suspending imports of medical gloves from WRP Asia Pacific, a Malaysian manufacturer, citing widespread reports of the company’s use of forced labor to produce the gloves. CBP later issued WRO’s against Top Glove (rubber gloves) on July 15, 2020, FGV Holdings Berhad (palm oil) on September 30, 2020, and against Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (palm oil) on December 30, 2020. On March 29, 2021, CBP announced that the WRO against Top Glove would move to an official Finding of forced labor, resulting in CBP seizing any shipments from Top Glove that enter U.S. ports. Since the Finding announcement CBP has seized two large shipments of TG products: a shipment of gloves worth USD 518,000 on May 5, and a second shipment of gloves worth USD 619,000 on May 13. Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of medical gloves, and the United States is its largest export market. In March 2020, CBP revoked the WRO on WRP-produced rubber gloves, citing information “showing the company is no longer producing the rubber gloves under forced labor conditions.”

A 2019 chemical dumping incident paints a blurry picture regarding Malaysia’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws on environmental protection. In the state of Johor in March 2019, a lorry dumped a mixture of toxic chemicals into the Kim Kim River, causing the hospitalization of almost 3,000 individuals. The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized did not get sick after the initial dumping, but rather days later aided by strong winds. The authorities did not immediately remove the chemicals from the river due to the costliness of the procedure, leading to a political backlash. The state government took straightforward legal steps against the responsible parties, and completed its investigation in a thorough and impartial manner. The Johor government charged the driver of the lorry under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, and charged the owners of the factory responsible for the dumping pursuant to the Environment Quality Regulations (Scheduled Wastes) 2005 and Environmental Quality Regulations (Clean Air) Regulations 2014.

The Malaysian Securities Commission leads issues regarding corporate governance and shareholder protection. In furtherance of its goal of safeguarding investors, in 2017 the SC released an updated version of the Malaysian Code of Corporate Governance (MCCG). This -document includes principles on board leadership and effectiveness, audit and risk management, integrity in corporate reporting, and meaningful relationships with stakeholders. The SC publishes an annual report called the CG Monitor to ascertain which of their suggested best practices in the MCCG are being implemented. The CG Monitor evaluates issues ranging from executive compensation standards to the quality of disclosures made by PLCs. The SC also issues policy papers on a range of related issues, including rules on takeovers, mergers, and acquisitions, with an eye on protecting shareholders.

Bursa Malaysia is similarly interested in ensuring shareholder protection, and has a dedicated chapter in its Listing Requirements to corporate governance. This chapter lays out in detail the requirements for listed companies concerning board composition, rights of directors, and auditing practices. The Listing Requirements circle back to the MCCG, and require that the board of PLCs disclose which of the best practices annunciated in the MCCG the company is following.

Promotion of RBC in Malaysia has been increasing due to pressure from institutional investors and government-linked investment funds. In 2014, the Minority Shareholders Watch Group (an independent research organization on corporate governance matters, originally funded by four state-owned investment funds) (MSWG) and the SC worked together to draft the Malaysian Code for Institutional Investors (MCII). The MCII includes six principles of effective stewardship by institutional investors, as well as guidance to facilitate implementation. Furthermore, the MCII encourages institutional investors to invest responsibly by taking stock of the RBC and corporate governance standards of the company. As a response to the MCII, the Institutional Investor Council (IIC) was formed in 2015. The IIC is an industry-led initiative that represents the common interests of institutional investors in Malaysia, and promotes good governance (including ESG considerations) to PLCs.

The interest in RBC and good governance has taken hold not only in industry, but in governmental funds as well. The government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund (Khazanah Nasional Berhad), the government pension fund (KWAP), and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). As signatories, they are required to carry out PRI principles, including taking ESG into consideration during the due diligence phase before making a potential investment, and ensuring that ESG best practices are met in companies in which they invest.

Post is not aware of any governmental interference in the efforts of regulators, business associations, and investors to improve responsible business practices amongst Malaysian corporations.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Malaysian government established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008 and the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2010 to combat corruption and considers bribery a criminal act. Malaysia’s 2009 Anti-Corruption Commission Act (ACCA) prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, permits the prosecution of Malaysians for offenses committed overseas, prohibits bribes from being deducted from taxes, and provides for the seizure of property. The government amended the ACCA in 2018 with new provisions that introduced corporate liability. It added the ability to penalize commercial organizations, including foreign companies with operations in Malaysia, that has an “associated person” involved in corruption or bribery. The definition of “associated person” is broad and can mean a director, partner, employee, or any person who performs services for or on behalf of the company. The purpose of the law is to incentivize companies to implement stringent procedures and safeguards to prevent the emergence and development of corrupt practices, though corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Malaysia Business Integrity Country Agenda highlighted that most Malaysian businesses do not have anti-corruption programs or policies.

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, authorities arrested 867 public officials for corruption and bribery from January 2019 to September 2020. The MACC conducts investigations, but prosecutorial discretion remains with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). Under the Statutory Declaration Act of 1960, public officials are required to disclose their earnings and assets within three months of appointment, and the asset declarations are accessible to the public on the MACC online portal. The Whistleblower Protection Act does not provide protection for those who disclose allegations to the media.

In July 2020, in the first criminal trial in the country’s history involving a former prime minister, the Malaysia’s High Court convicted former Prime Minister Najib Razak on all seven counts brought against him in the first of five corruption trials tied to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) investment fund scandal. Najib was charged with giving government guarantees on a loan from the country’s retirement fund to a subsidiary of the 1MDB, misappropriation of funds, and money laundering. Najib is appealing the conviction. Suits filed against Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor on 19 counts of money laundering and tax evasion are ongoing. In May 2020, a Sessions Court granted Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, a “discharge not amounting to acquittal” in relation to five counts of laundering nearly $250 million from the 1MDB investment fund. As part of the agreement, Riza will return $108 million in assets. Many members of the legal community condemned the Session Court’s decision.

Resources to Report Corruption

Datuk Seri Azam Baki – Chief Commissioner
Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission
Block D6, Complex D, Pusat Pentadbiran
Kerajaan Persekutuan, Peti Surat 6000
62007 Putrajaya
+6-1800-88-6000
Email: info@sprm.gov.my

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Cynthia Gabriel, Director
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
C Four Consultancies Sdn Bhd
A-2-10, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Seksyen 8, 46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Email: info@c4center.org

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections. In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, which outlaws street protests and places other significant restrictions on public assemblies. The May 9, 2018, national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence, and it was peaceful. The Pakatan Harapan administration that came to office in that election collapsed on February 24, 2020 and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, including over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy. To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence. Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful. It is illegal for foreigners to participate in political demonstrations of any kind.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Malaysia’s two million documented and estimated 1.5 to four million undocumented foreign workers make up over 30 percent of the country’s workforce. However, to curb the rise of COVID-19, the Malaysian government banned in 2020 additional or replacement migrant workers from entering the country, resulting in a dearth of migrant labor available for domestic companies.

Malaysia’s shortage of skilled labor is the most frequently mentioned impediment to economic growth cited in numerous studies. Malaysia has an acute shortage of highly qualified professionals, scientists, and academics. U.S. firms operating in Malaysia have echoed this sentiment, noting that the shortage of skilled labor has resulted in more on-the-job training for new hires.

The Malaysian labor market, traditionally accustomed to operating at or near full employment, has been heavily impacted by the prolonged shutdown as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic. The unemployment rate reached five percent in April 2020, Malaysia’s highest in over 30 years, with economic observers predicting it will climb higher during the year.

Malaysia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Labor relations in Malaysia are generally non-confrontational. While a system of government controls strongly discourages strikes and restricts the formation of unions, the new government has created a National Labor Advisory Council – comprised of the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress and Malaysian Employer’s Federation – to increase labor participation in unions. The government amended its Trade Unions Act and Industrial Relations Act in July 2019 to increase freedom of association in Malaysia. Some labor disputes are settled through negotiation or arbitration by an industrial court. Malaysian authorities have pledged to move forward with amendments to the country’s labor laws as a means of boosting the economy’s overall competitiveness and combatting forced labor conditions. The previous government prohibited outsourcing companies, improved oversight of employment agencies, and brought the Employment Act, Children and Young Persons Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act in line with ILO principles.

Although national unions are currently proscribed in Malaysia, there are a number of territorial federations of unions (the three territories being Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak). The government has prevented some trade unions, such as those in the electronics and textile sectors, from forming territorial federations of unions. Instead of allowing a federation of unions for all of Peninsular Malaysia, the electronics sector is limited to forming four regional federations of unions, while the textile sector is limited to state-based federations of unions, for those states which have a textile industry. Proposed changes to the Trade Unions Act address this issue and would allow unions to form.

Employers and employees share the costs of the Social Security Organization (SOSCO), which covers an estimated 12.9 million workers and has been expanded to cover foreign workers. No systematic welfare programs or government unemployment benefits exist; however, the Employee Provident Fund, which employers and employees are required to contribute to, provides retirement benefits for workers in the private sector. Civil servants receive pensions upon retirement.

The regulation of employment in Malaysia, specifically as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers, remains a notable impediment to employing workers in Malaysia. The high cost of terminating employees, even in cases of wrongdoing, is a source of complaint for domestic and foreign employers. The former prime minister formed an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to study foreign worker policies. The Committee submitted 40 recommendations for streamlining the hiring of foreign workers and protecting employees from debt bondage and forced labor conditions. It is unclear whether or how the new government will act on these recommendations.

Executives at U.S. companies operating in Malaysia have reported that the government monitors the ethnic balance among employees and enforces an ethnic quota system for hiring in certain areas. Race-based preferences in hiring and promotion are widespread in government, government-owned universities, and government-linked corporations.

The former government increased and standardized the minimum wage across the country to RM 1100 (USD 275), a raise from RM 1,000 (USD 250) in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 920 (USD 230) in East Malaysia.

In 2018, the Department of Labor’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) listing of goods produced with child labor and forced labor included Malaysian palm oil (forced and child labor), electronics (forced labor), garments (forced labor), and rubber gloves (forced labor). Senior officials within a number of Malaysian government agencies have been working with the private sector and civil society to address concerns relating to the recruitment, hiring, and management of foreign workers in all sectors of the Malaysian economy yet progress remains slow as the government’s priorities are focused on issues of public health and the economy.

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