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Formation of Migrant Domestic Workers Associations in Malaysia - Persatuan Pekerja Rumah Tangga Indonesia Migran (PERTIMIG) and Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas (AMMPO)

Primary GCM Objectives

Secondary GCM Objectives


GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


2014 - Present

Type of practice


Geographic scope



The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) started to organize Filipino Migrant Domestic Workers in 2017 and Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers in Malaysia in early 2019 by engaging several Filipino and Indonesian migrant groups, and specifically reaching out to domestic workers. Through this engagement, the IDWF attempted to provide a safe space for migrant domestic workers to have an exchange of learning among themselves, and also provided access to training on issues such gender equality, organizing, leadership and unionism. Through this process, domestic worker leaders started becoming aware of their issues and collectively established a group of Indonesian migrant domestic workers named PERTIMIG (Persatuan Pekerja Rumah Tangga Indonesia Migran) on December 15, 2019 with 30 domestic workers registered as members, and a group of Filipino migrant domestic workers Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas (AMMPO), Malaysia. AMMPO was already structured and organized under the leadership and organizing of SENTRO, the national trade union of the Philippines since October 2014. After their formal formation, both PERTIMIG and AMMPO have faced major challenges in organizing and recruiting membership as the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the lives of all MDWs in Malaysia. Most domestic workers have restrictions on movement and have no access to days off, and are consequently more isolated in their employers' houses. Many domestic workers lost jobs, had no income and were exploited due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it did not stop their organizing work and they grew stronger in the midst of the pandemic. Both unions had carried out a lot of activities during this time especially in terms of food support, relief work and case handling. The use of online platforms e.g Zoom meeting, WhatsApp and Facebook have been significantly helpful for both unions in carrying out their programs such as training, meeting and building dialogue with the government from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.


Main Implementing Organization(s)

International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)

Partner/Donor Organizations


Benefit and Impact

PERTIMIG was established in December 2019, with the aim of organizing migrant Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia and has a current membership of 130 Indonesian migrant domestic workers. AMMPO was established in October 2014 with the aim of organizing migrant Filipino workers in Malaysia, and has a current membership of 385 Filipino migrant domestic workers.

Both PERTIMIG and AMMPO have been successful in organizing migrant workers in a political and social atmosphere inimical to their rights and well-being. There is a prohibition from Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that migrant workers in Malaysia cannot join any kind of association, which makes the employers discourage migrant workers to join unions. Also, the Trade Union Act 1959 specifies that any union officer must be a citizen of Malaysia.

Both PERTIMIG and AMMPO have not yet been registered due to these laws operating in the country, but have provided ample opportunities for organization of Indonesian and Filipino migrant workers respectively. It has provided scope for domestic workers to know about the rights guaranteed to them through different international conventions. That has led to discussions and training sessions about human rights, workers’ rights (and also specifically on domestic workers’ rights), and women’s rights (since the majority of migrant domestic workers in Malaysia identify as women). PERTIMIG and AMMPO have been successful in bringing forth the intersectionality of different issues that culminate in domestic workers’ rights, and collaborate with various civil society stakeholders for articulating and spreading awareness of the needs and rights of migrant domestic workers. In the last few years, PERTIMIG and AMMPO have developed migrant domestic worker leaders to lead and support the organization, and both organizations have an elected Executive Committee of migrant domestic leaders.

Key Lessons

PERTIMIG was established in 2019, and right after the pandemic affected the world in 2020. It was a major challenge for them to organize in the midst of the pandemic, and strategies used earlier for organizing and advocacy were not applicable to a new union which had to organize in the new pandemic settings. Domestic workers are not entitled to day offs in Malaysia, and the pandemic made it worse, especially for live-in domestic workers who were working round-the-clock. This, combined with the restriction of movement imposed in Malaysia by the government made tried-and-tested organizing strategies almost redundant.

In this situation, migrant Indonesian domestic workers adapted by acquiring a vast range of digital skills which included online meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, use of social media and creation of social media pages/handles on Facebook and Twitter, using Tik Tok as a storytelling platform by domestic workers individually to talk about relevant issues and challenges, learning online collaboration tools such as Google Jamboard and Mural. This meant that physical meetings moved online, training sessions were conducted online by inviting and collaborating with resource persons from ILO, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) etc. PERTIMIG also carried out online campaigns, demanding for changes to the Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which excludes domestic workers (both local and migrant) from a lot of its protections and provisions. Their members met up with government workers and representatives, such as elected members of Parliament and members from Ministry of Human Resource, Malaysia. These leaders and members have been at the forefront of driving policy advocacy for domestic worker’s rights, by entering into dialogue with the government at different levels. These organisations have also seen more success in organizing migrant domestic workers as compared to other unions and associations also trying to do the same in Malaysia.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

Having established two sister organisations in Malaysia, PERTIMIG and AMMPO have learnt strategies and best practices from one another. Their workers say that for the organizing of migrant domestic workers in any country, the strategy is effectively the same: reach out to old and new members through a combination of techniques such as organizing trainings on domestic workers issues and rights, celebration of important days and milestones, relief work during the pandemic etc. But, with the advent of the pandemic, the thinking and strategy around organizing needs to change. Strategies to engage with workers online should be devised and implemented to ensure engagement and participation in the union. This may include online training sessions (for eg. PERTIMIG and AMMPO have carried out online English-speaking sessions for workers to enable them to access better employers and workplaces such as expats), teaching them online tools to collaborate and work with (Eg. Zoom, Google Meet), and online advocacy, such as social media campaigns, petitions etc. The strategy for policy advocacy should be along the lines of issues that domestic workers can fight for and achieve together. Mobilizing of PERTIMIG and AMMPO members for issues affecting all domestic workers such as the Employment (Amendment Bill) 2021, and asking for rights such as social security and minimum wage covers a wide range of identities that domestic workers belong to, and provides scope for intersection and collaboration. Organising under the umbrella of migrant domestic worker rights, and meeting elected representatives with a combined set of needs and demands made sure that the associations presented a united front on the issues they both feel passionate about. It has also led to identifying other issues affecting both communities, and has led to collaboration with external civil society organisations in Malaysia.


There are several aspects of the organizing of PERTIMIG and AMMPO that have been adaptive and innovative. The lack of associations in Malaysia for migrant domestic workers has led to their development, as they quickly created and implemented a model of informal organizing without requiring registration. They also focused on issue-based organizing – topics such as social security, minimum wage, no paid leaves etc – and these served to create a united front of migrant domestic workers advocating for the same issues and rights. The adaption of this organizing into an efficient online system through a series of trainings, programs and discussions meant that the associations were active and engaged during the pandemic. They collaborate with the embassies of their countries to ensure the dignified return and rehabilitation of migrant domestic workers in cases of abuse and exploitation, and have established a thorough follow-up process to ensure the same. They have also adapted to online campaigning tolls such as social media, online petitions etc to make their voices heard during the pandemic. They have been proactive in identifying issues affecting migrant domestic workers through multiple dialogues and discussions, and have successfully raised these issues with the government. PERTIMIG and AMMPO have been the more successful cases of organizing migrant workers in Malaysia, as the law and society is not conducive to their organizing or collective bargaining.


Date submitted:

01 February 2022

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.



*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).