The proposed Asean framework to protect migrant workers’ rights is facing a tough road ahead as some Asean states like Malaysia and Singapore have expressed resistance to it from the onset, reports Jerrie M Abella of GMANews.TV
Southeast Asia is a rich source of cross-border migrant workers.
From member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), about 13.5 million migrant workers have fanned out to work in other countries across the globe. Of this number, over 5 million are working also within Asean states.
And yet, according to a coalition of civil society groups, protection of migrant workers in the Asean region remains “very poor.” The 12th Asean Summit in 2007 produced a Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. But it was a mere declaration of intent, not yet a binding convention or agreement.
In light of this, the civil society coalition led by Task Force on Asean Migrant Workers (TFAMW) on Wednesday called on Asean to institute stronger mechanisms to safeguard the rights of migrant workers and their families in the region.
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The TFAMW launched a rights-based instrument—in the form of a 127-page proposal—which it hopes will be adopted by the Asean Committee for Migrant Workers (ACMW) in drafting an instrument to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers.
The Philippines is vice chair of the ACMW.
“Millions of migrant workers are seeking a better future for themselves and their families by working abroad in Asean countries. There is an urgent need for an agreement to protect their rights and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect,” said TFAMW convener Sinapan Samydorai.
The TFAMW document outlines issues which, it said, the ACMW should consider in formulating a legally-binding instrument on migrant workers’ rights.
It has over 100 articles covering all aspects of migration, including recommendations on the obligation of sending and receiving states, and commitments that Asean members can make.
Based on 2005 figures, the coalition said there are about 13.5 million migrant workers across the globe from Asean member states, over 5 million of whom are working in Asean states.
In the region, the Philippines remains the top sending country with 3.6 million workers, followed by Indonesia with 2.3 million and Myanmar with 1.6 million.
On the other hand, Malaysia is a major receiving country, being the destination of 1.9 million workers. Singapore likewise has 1.2 million.
In 2006, the group said, more than half of the workers in Asean or 148 million live with their families on less than US$2 per day.
Similarly, about 60 per cent of the Asean workforce is from the informal sector with little or no social protection against ill health, family emergency and financial uncertainty.
Ellene Sana, executive director of the Centre for Migrant Advocacies, which is the coalition’s focal point in the country, said the document gives emphasis to the rights of all migrant workers in the region regardless of nationality, domestic helpers, families of workers and undocumented workers.
The proposed framework is facing a tough road ahead, however, as some Asean states have expressed resistance to it at the onset.
“Our main concern is that the bulk of our people are in Malaysia and Singapore, and these countries are the ones that have initially refused to implement the framework,” Sana said.
According to Migrant Forum in Asia regional coordinator William Gois, some aspects of the proposal which some countries find contentious are its position that all workers must be give protection, even those that are not from Asean states, and even undocumented workers and domestic workers.
“The framework will seem to impact only a small fraction of migrant workers in the regions, as a large number of them would be undocumented workers. Also, domestic workers are being refused coverage due to their large number,” Gois explained.
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration deputy administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said the relevant Philippine agencies are mapping a strategy to push for the framework as the country prepares to host the next ACMW drafting meeting.
“We are trying to find ways to achieve a consensus and a possible compromise in light of these contentious issues,” Cacdac said.
He added that while Asean has set 2010 as the deadline for the drafting of an instrument for the protection of migrant workers, the process may take several more years if countries like Malaysia remain adamant with their opposition. —JV, GMANews.TV
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