Changing employment structures and their effects on industrial relations in Malaysia

by Dr. Rohana Ariffin

This paper describes the various stages of industrialisation through which Malaysia has passed, beginning with import substitution in the 1960s, export-oriented industries of the 1970s to heavy industries in the 1980s. The public sector, which used to employ a substantial percentage of the labour force and a high percentage of ethnic Malays, has been reduced as a result of the government’s decision to corporatise and privatise many of its agencies. However, as more Malays have began working in the industrial sector, a new phenomena of an emerging Malay proletariat alongside the non-Malays has become evident. They now form more than half of the union leadership and are strongly represented among skilled workers. Whether the government will become more liberal with its laws and policies towards unions in the future is uncertain, as the democratic process in Malaysia has yet to gain a firm hold.

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