Employment Act: Anti-discrimination provisions should lengthen to job seekers and embrace disability standing

We, the undersignedurge the Minister of Human Resources to include jobseekers in the proposed amendments to the Employment Act in order to protect jobseekers from discrimination.

We also urge the minister to include disability status as a protected ground – in addition to gender, race and religion.


In September 2018, the Ministry of Human Resources proposed amending the Labor Code to protect job seekers and workers from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, disability, marital status, pregnancy and language.

However, in August 2019, the ministry said it planned to exclude job seekers from anti-discrimination rules. This means that people who are discriminated against while being hired are left unprotected.

In addition, the ministry confirmed that the proposed anti-discrimination rules would include gender, race and religion as protected grounds – but not disability status.

Support the struggle to build a Malaysia based on justice, freedom and solidarity:

Discrimination against job seekers is widespread

In a recent survey of 1,010 Malaysian women conducted by the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) and Vase.ai:

  • 47% of the respondents were asked about their marital status during an interview
  • 22% were asked about their ability to perform certain tasks as women
  • 15% were asked about their plans for children
  • 13% were asked if they would need long maternity leave if they became pregnant
  • 22% had experienced racial or religious discrimination during the hiring process
  • 20% of women with a permanent disability were informed by their interviewer / recruiter that they should consider freelance work instead as their disability is an issue

If we extend anti-discrimination protection to jobseekers, we would help create an equitable and more resilient workforce – by making sure qualified applicants are not excluded from job opportunities.

The Malaysian government had cited legal barriers to the inclusion of job seekers in the employment law. However, organizations such as Suhakam, trade unions and representatives of the Bar Council have found that there are no legal or technical barriers to including job seekers in the Employment Act. Former Malaysian lawyer president Ragunath Kesavan stated that “the inclusion of protection for jobseekers against discrimination in labor law is not only appropriate, it must also be regulated by law”.

Many countries have laws that protect job seekers from discrimination. These include Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United States, Canada, and South Africa, which have labor laws that prohibit discrimination both during the hiring process and during employment.

The inclusion of the disability status as a protected area is in line with the law on people with disabilities and our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

In 2008, Malaysia passed the Disabled People Act. Even so, people with disabilities continue to face discrimination. According to Suhakam, the law lacks legal remedies and redress mechanisms for acts of discrimination against people with disabilities.

Protecting people with disabilities from discrimination in the Labor Code would help address some of the shortcomings in the Law on People with Disabilities.

In 2010 Malaysia acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This convention commits countries to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, including during recruitment and employment.

Malaysia has done little to implement the UNCRPD. Protection against discrimination on grounds of disability in the Employment Act could be an important step forward for Malaysia to take towards its UNCRPD obligations.

There is significant public support to ban discrimination against job seekers.

A survey of 1,027 Malaysians carried out by Vase.ai in collaboration with Undi18, Architects of Diversity and the WAO showed:

  • 91% agree that more measures should be taken to create a fair working environment for women
  • 84% agree that more policies should be put in place so that women have the same job opportunities as men
  • 74% agree that it should be illegal for employers to refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant
  • 78% of Malaysians agree that employers should not be allowed to require races in applications, while 63% of Malaysians agree that employers should not be allowed to require language requirements in applications.

The undersigned groups reaffirm our support for the amendment to the Employment Act to provide safeguards against discrimination based on sex, race, religion and disability for both workers and job seekers, and urge the Ministry of Personnel to table these amendments in Parliament November 2020.

Approved by:

  • Ammpo Center
  • All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
  • Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  • Engender advice
  • Support Group for Foreign Spouses (FSSG)
  • Justice for sisters
  • Cross-network
  • Labor Law Reform Coalition (LLRC)
  • Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW)
  • North-South Initiative (NSI)
  • Malaysian Socialist Party
  • Selangor Community Awareness Association (Empowerment)
  • Selangor Women’s Friends Association (PSWS)
  • People like us support ourselves (PLUsos)
  • Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
  • Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
  • Seeds Malaysia
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  • Do you speak Malaysia
  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  • Tenaganita
  • Women’s aid organization
  • Women’s Center for Change (WCC) Penang
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