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Employment Act: Anti-discrimination provisions must extend to job seekers and include disability status

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We, the undersigned, urge the Minister of Human Resources to include job seekers in the proposed amendments to the Employment Act, to protect job seekers 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 Employment Act to protect job seekers and employees from discrimination – on the basis of gender, religion, race, disability, marital status, pregnancy and language.

However, in August 2019, the ministry said it planned to exclude job seekers from the anti-discrimination provisions. This means that individuals who experience discrimination during recruitment will remain unprotected.

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

Discrimintion against job seekers is rampant

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

  • 47% of survey respondents were asked about their marital status during a job interview
  • 22% were asked about their ability to perform certain tasks as a woman
  • 15% were asked about their plans to have children
  • 13% were asked if they would require a long maternity leave if they got pregnant
  • 22% had experienced racial or religious discrimination during the recruitment process
  • 20% of women with a permanent disability were told by their interviewer/recruiter that they should consider freelancing instead as their disability was an issue

If we extend anti-discrimination protections to job seekers, we would help create a more equal and robust workforce – by ensuring that qualified candidates are not excluded from job opportunities.

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The Malaysian government had cited legal barriers to including job seekers in the Employment Act. However, organisations including Suhakam, unions and representatives of the Bar Council, have noted that there are no legal or technical barriers to including job seekers in the Employment Act. Former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan stated that “including protection for job seekers against discrimination in the Employment Act is not only reasonable but it must be legislated”.

Many countries have laws protecting job seekers from discrimination. Among these are Japan, South Korea, Australia, the US, Canada and South Africa, which have employment laws that prohibit discrimination during both the recruitment process and employment.

Including disability status as a protected ground is in line with the Persons with Disabilities Act and our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In 2008, Malaysia passed the Persons with Disabilities Act. Despite this, 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 Employment Act would help remedy some of the shortcomings in the Persons with Disabilities Act.

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

Malaysia has done little to implement the UNCRPD. By protecting against discrimination based on disability status in the Employment Act, Malaysia could take an important step towards its UNCRPD obligations.

READ MORE:  Ensure legal protection for people with disabilities in hiring process and workplace

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

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

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

The undersigned groups once again reiterate our support for amending the Employment Act to include protections against discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion and disability status for both employees and job seekers and urge the Ministry of Human Resources to table these amendments in Parliament in November 2020.

Endorsed by:

  • Ammpo-Sentro
  • All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
  • Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  • Engender Consultancy
  • Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
  • Justice for Sisters
  • Kryss Network
  • Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC)
  • Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW) 
  • North South Initiative (NSI)
  • Parti Sosialis Malaysia
  • Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
  • Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  • People Like Us Support Ourselves (PLUsos) 
  • Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
  • Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
  • Seed Malaysia
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  • Speak Up Malaysia
  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  • Tenaganita
  • Women’s Aid Organisation
  • Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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20 Nov 2020 7.21pm

Anti discrimination law should not apply to private sectors only but also to public services. Promotions should be based on merit and not monopolise by a certain community in the public service. Then only the anti discrimination law will be meaningful otherwises it’s meaningless.

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