The first legislation were the Industrial Courts Enactment 1940 by the Federated Malay States, the Industrial Courts Ordinance 1940 for the Straits Settlement and the Industrial Courts Enactment 1360 of Kedah. The Industrial Court did not function due to the Japanese Occupation.
When the Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948, the Industrial Courts Ordinance 1948 was enacted and the earlier legislation were repealed.
The Industrial Courts Ordinance 1948 provided for the settlement of disputes by a permanent Industrial Court and ad hoc Boards of arbitration and inquiry. It provided for a voluntary system of arbitration of trade disputes.
The Essential (Prohibition of Strikes and Proscribed Industrial Actions) Regulations 1965 and the Essential (Arbitration in the Essential Services) Regulations 1965 were enacted by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong by the powers conferred on him under section 2, Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1964. These regulations were repealed by the Essential (Trade Disputes in the Essential Services) Regulations 1965. During the period of the Indonesian Confrontation from 1965 to 1967 coupled with the communist insurgency, there was a threat to national security. Industrial action in the public services was prohibited and provisions were made for settlement of trade disputes in the essential services. There was a compulsory arbitration of disputes by the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal in respect of trade disputes in the essential services. Trade disputes in services not classified as essential services continued to be dealt with by the Industrial Court under the voluntary system of arbitration.
In 1967, the Industrial Relations Act 1967 was enacted whereby compulsory arbitration was introduced for trade disputes in all industries. Any trade dispute which is not resolved through conciliation may be referred to the Industrial Court by the Honourable Minister of Human Resources. The earlier legislation were repealed.
On 10 February 1989, the Industrial Relations Act 1967 was amended to allow an individual workman irrespective of whether he is a member of a trade union of workmen to make representations to the Director General of Industrial Relations if he has been dismissed. The Industrial Court has jurisdiction to decide on the dismissal of an individual workmen if the matter is referred to the Industrial Court by the Honourable Minister of Human Resources.
The Industrial Relations Act 1967 was amended in 1969, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1989, 1990 and 2007.