In 2001, Malaysia's total labor force was estimated at 9.9 million. Of these, approximately 28% were in trade and tourism, 27% in manufacturing, 16% in agriculture; 10% in services; 10% in government; and 9% in construction. Unemployment in 2001 was estimated at 3.7%.
Workers have the right to engage in union activity, but only about 8% of the workforce was unionized in 2002. There are 544 trade unions and two national trade confederations. Negotiations between unions and employers are voluntary; strikes are permitted but limited due to many restrictions. If the dispute has been referred to an industrial court for settlement, the employees are prohibited from engaging in a strike.
Employment by children under the age of 14 is prohibited by law. However, child labor persists in some areas of the country. Protective labor legislation in Malaysia is more extensive than in most Asian countries. Commerce and industry operate on a 48-hour week, although actual weekly hours tend to be closer to 44 hours. There is a legal requirement of one rest day per week. There is no national minimum wage, but a minimum wage does exist on a sector or region basis. In 2002, the government was considering a minimum wage of $237 per month. Occupational safety and health provisions are set by law but are erratically enforced. The provisions are more rigorously enforced in the formal economic sector and are least enforced on plantations and construction sites where immigrant workers are employed. These foreign workers have no legal protections and are prohibited from forming unions.