Features

Published: Monday June 2, 2014 MYT 7:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday June 2, 2014 MYT 10:54:04 AM

Malaysia among 24 'worst countries for workers': 2014 survey

According to the recently released findings of a global survey of working conditions in 139 countries, Malaysia is ranked as one of the worst 24 countries in the world for workers.

Bad news for salary earners in Malaysia: you’re currently working in one of the world’s 24 worst countries for workers, according to a new survey report, where despite the existence of “legislation that may spell out certain rights, workers effectively have no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices.”

Malaysia – one of the world's 24 worst countries for workers: A woman (above) seen working in a charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang, Perak in 2009. – Reuters 

Released on May 19, the survey report – aptly titled Global Rights Index: The World’s Worst Countries For Workers – was compiled by the Geneva-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) based on information from its network of affiliates including the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations during the survey period from April 2013 to March 2014.

In the survey, countries are given a ranking of between 1 and 5 – with 1 representing the best and 5 the worst. The ranking is based on how countries scored against a checklist of 97 indicators that look at incidences of violations of workers’ rights and their severity. 

Global Rights Index 2014: The World's Worst Countries For Workers - an overall breakdown of how countries ranked, with mention of ASEAN countries.

 Ranking 
 Meaning of Ranking    Number of Countries 
 5+   No guarantee of rights due to  the breakdown
 of the rule of law 
 8

 5  No guarantee of rights
 24 (Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos 
 & the Philippines) 
 4  Systematic violation of rights
 30 (Indonesia, Myanmar &Thailand)  
 3  Regular violation of rights
 33 (Singapore)
 2  Repeated violation of rights
 26
 1  Irregular violation of rights
 18

Malaysia earned its rating of 5 mostly because of institutional factors that hamper workers’ ability to form trade unions and strike against unfair labour practices. The survey cited key incidents that happened in the country as evidence for why we rank so low.

We are not alone, however, as we share the dishonour with neighbouring ASEAN countries Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Singapore earned the highest ranking of 3 among the ASEAN countries while Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand managed a ranking of 4. Vietnam and Brunei were absent from the list.

Some other notable countries that ranked 5 include China, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Bangladesh, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Greece, and Turkey. The list continues with Algeria, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Fiji, Guatemala, Nigeria, Swaziland, Zambia, and Belarus.

A special ranking of 5+ is given to countries where “the rule of law has completely broken down and workers get no protection whatsoever”. Eight countries received this lowest-of-the-low ranking: Central African Republic, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine.

The survey also said that, of the 139 countries surveyed, only one country managed to clear all the indicators on their checklist. Denmark, which is grouped together with 17 other countries ranked 1, is the world’s best country for workers.

Key findings

While the worst-ranked countries may have been expected for some, it’s disconcerting to note that a few developed countries are ranked very low in the survey. One shocking entry was the US, which only got a ranking of 4, embarrassing especially when compared to archrival Russia which ranked 2.

While a few of the 18 countries ranked 1 are known to have a good rights track record – Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands – they also revealed the surprising fact that neither a high level of GDP nor technological advancement is a necessary prerequisite for the protection of worker’s rights.

The top-ranked include the island nations of Barbados, Iceland, and Togo and former Eastern-bloc nations Estonia, Lithuania, Montenegro and Slovakia. Rounding out the top-ranked list are Uruguay, South Africa and Italy.

Other findings by ITUC while conducting the survey give cause for concern. The report said that “in the past year, governments of at least 35 countries have arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages, safer working conditions and secure jobs” and that “laws and practices in at least 87 countries exclude certain type of workers from the right to strike.”

Not mincing words, the survey report was also critical of the World Bank’s previous labour recommendations. The ITUC team hoped that its survey “will redress the misconception championed by the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report that driving down labour standards is good for business”, adding that the World Bank’s recommendation was “unacceptable for an organisation that claims to be committed to poverty reduction. 

For more information, the ITUC survey report can be downloaded for free here.  

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Features, global, survey, Malaysia, ranking, worst, labour, conditions, rights, Global Rights Index, World's Worst Countries for Workers, ITUC, International Trade Union Confederation

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