Jakarta: Civil society groups pushing for protection of ASEAN migrant workers

07 May 2011   |  Advocacy Campaigns   |  Press Release  

Civil society groups pushing for protection of ASEAN migrant workers

JAKARTA, Indonesia ( May 6, 2011) -- Much has to be done to pressure the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to protect the 13.5 million migrant workers of the region, civil society groups said.

During a forum on migration, Sinapan Samy Dorai, convenor of Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers, said civil society groups need to pressure ASEAN governments to protect the rights of migrant workers.

“The ASEAN Declaration (on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers) is already there. But who is actually implementing, monitoring and reporting (compliance to it) to the ASEAN committee on migrant workers?\" Dorai asked during the ASEAN-Civil Society Conference.

Adopted in 2007, the Declaration outlines the obligations of countries that receive and send migrant workers.

The Declaration mandates ASEAN countries to promote fair and appropriate employment protection, payment of wages and adequate access to decent working and living conditions for migrant workers, of the 13.5 migrant workers from ASEAN member countries, over five million are working within the region.

Many migrant workers are still being discriminated against, exploited, or not given decent wages, civil society groups noted.

“What do we do about it? Do we pressure our governments to implement the agreement? It’s not just for the government, it’s for ourselves, for the civil society,\" Sinapan said.

If the ASEAN member countries will not submit their report on compliance with the declaration, civil society groups should.

“I have not seen a single report from these countries in many years. Civil society groups can also submit report on their own. Please start doing the report,\" he said.

“We have to take it up. Who is going to monitor it? How are we going to do about it? As part of the civil society we have to think about this and do something soon. That’s why we need much more advocacy work, much more,\" he added.

The ASEAN is still drafting a framework instrument which would legally bind member-countries to protect the migrant workers.


During the forum, the CSOs made recommendations on how they would push for the protection of migrant workers.

Among the recommendations were:

- make use of international spaces for advocacy to pressure ASEAN governments and come up with
 a  binding framework;
- improve advocacy at the national level to improve national laws;
- use media as a means to mobilize people and pressure ASEAN governments.

The civil society organization will be presenting and discussing their recommendations with the leaders of their respective governments
in an informal meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Collaborative bargain

During the forum, Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia Division of the Human Rights Watch, suggested that there should be a collaborative bargain
between countries that send and receive migrant workers.

Under the proposed collaborative bargain, countries will work together for the protection of migrant workers.

He noted that at present, some countries prefer to get workers from countries which do not protect their citizens abroad because there are no preconditions.

Robertson said these workers have lower salaries and are easier to abuse.

“If there’s going to be a labor competition between these countries, it should be based on substantive issues, like the skills or knowledge of the workers. It should not be based on a failure to protect their workers,\" he said.

“A government should not gain unfair vantage by saying “OK, Malaysia, we don’t mind if you abuse our workers. We won’t do anything or the embassy won’t help. You can do as you like,\" he said.

He suggested that the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines, which have done more to protect migrant workers, could talk to the governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, to convince them to raise their standards for workers.

“We would have to work together to bargain collectively with Malaysia so that Malaysia will agree to raise the standards to improve the treatment of migrant workers for all groups of people who go to Malaysia. Same for Singapore, same for Brunei,\" Robertson said.

Still not perfect

Ellene Sana, executive director of Center for Migrant Advocacy-Philippines, said the country may be considered as a \"trailblazer\" in migrant but the Philippines still has some faults.

She did not mention what these \"faults\" were.

“But if you compare to other countries that send a lot of migrants like Indonesia, we are way ahead of it. I think I will give credit to our government especially after four decades, they’d like to see our workers in good condition especially when outside the country especially the domestic workers,\" she said.

Based on the latest data released by the National Statistics Office, some 1.9 million Filipinos worked abroad in 2009. Of this total, 47.2 percent or approximately 900,000 were women.

Sana said aside from acute shortage of available employment opportunities in the country, the migration of Filipinos is because of the demand for workers abroad.

She added that there is also a culture of migration in the Philippines.

\"When you see your neighbour having a good life after working abroad, one would have the enthusiasm to work abroad too so he and his family would also have a good life.

 You would seriously consider going abroad even though sometimes they spend hundreds of pesos for placement fee only to be victimized by an illegal recruiter,\" she said.

Civil society groups pushing for protection of ASEAN migrant workers
2011-05-06      AMITA O. LEGASPI, GMA News

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