Right of workers to decent working hours

  • Letters
  • Thursday, 09 Jan 2020

THE Malaysian Employment Act 1955 defines a work week as 48 hours, with a maximum of eight hours per day and six working days a week. It also provides for 10 days of paid holidays.

A worker’s rest day should be respected, so if he or she is requested to work on that day, the law stipulates that the individual needs to be compensated with a wage payment at the rate of 2.5 times the normal sum.

Ten days of holiday a year (“10 Gazetted Public Holidays”) is provided for all employees. A break of 30 minutes should be provided by employers for each five hours in excess of eight hours of work.

The exception to the eight-hour day is when the specific project or work needs to progress continuously over two shifts.

These rules are expected to apply to all government, commercial and industrial and other professions. The employer who violates or contravenes any provisions of this law has committed an offence and would be held accountable by the director-general of Labour.

All employees need to review their conditions of employment to ascertain that indeed these guidelines are outlined in their contracts. It is imperative under the terms of international labour laws set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations labour laws and Malaysian labour laws that these provisions be upheld by employers irrespective of their status.

These labour laws and working conditions and hours need to be upheld by all employers, including international companies or corporations operating in Peninsular Malaysia.

Conventions set by ILO are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states. Recommendations are non-binding guidelines.

In many cases, a convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more details.

International labour standards refer to conventions agreed upon by international actors, resulting from a series of value judgments “set forth to protect basic worker rights, enhance workers’ job security, and improve their terms of employment on a global scale”.

The intent of such standards is to establish a worldwide minimum level of protection from inhumane labour practices through the adoption and implementation of the said measures.

From a theoretical standpoint, it has been maintained, on ethical grounds, that there are certain basic human rights that are universal to humankind.

Thus, it is the aim of international labour standards to ensure the provision of such rights in the workplace, such as against workplace aggression, bullying, discrimination and gender inequality.

Talking to various Malaysian employees, their families and friends, I have come to realise that some local employers disregard and blatantly ignore the above guidelines and terms of their employment.

They pay no attention to the Employment Act 1955 and its approved amendments made by Parliament.

The long hours and adverse conditions enforced on Malaysian employees, if allowed to continue, could result in a terrible health toll on them and their families.

The adverse conditions under which employees work should not be ignored by the director-general of Labour and the Human Resources Ministry.

Long working hours enforced by employers and the related stress can lead to increased incidence of depression and hypertension, which can subsequently lead to cardiovascular damage and stroke. This state of affairs would lead to loss of morale and less efficiency in the workplace.

The negative impacts on family life and health of Malaysian employees cannot continue. They should and must be corrected by stricter enforcement of the law by the director-general of Labour.

International corporations must also comply with the Malaysian Employment Act, including the provision on working hours.

Any international corporation that fails to follow the provisions of the Malaysian Employment Act must be cited and reported to the relevant authorities in their home country, for example the State Department in the case of the United States, for further action.

The long hours and working conditions of Malaysian workers need to be examined critically to determine a solution.


Associate professor (retired)

Pharmacy, Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics

Wayne State University

Detroit, United States

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