Category Archives: MMN Activities

MMN in Media: Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong

It has been recently announced that the first batch of domestic workers from Cambodia will arrive in Hong Kong in the autumn. There are concerns about these workers’ vulnerability to rights violation as new comers. Speakers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Employers’ Association and NGOs including a representative of the Mekong Migration Network (Reiko Harima, Regional Coordinator) discuss the issues surrounding foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong in this an-hour-long radio program.

The program was broadcast live on 26 April 2017

 

Please click the link below to listen to the full podcast:

Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong

 

MMN in Media: Why Hong Kong’s plan for Cambodian maids may be hard work all round

The Chinese city has turned to a new source to solve a shortage of foreign domestic workers, but a past deal with Myanmar and an ill-fated scheme in Singapore suggest there will be plenty of problems to iron out

There are 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines- already working in Hong Kong. Photo:AFP

Hong Kong may hope to ease its shortage of domestic workers by welcoming its first batch of maids from Cambodia later this year, but if history is anything to go by the scheme could end up providing more problems than solutions.

Under a new five-year scheme, the first trial group of 1,000 Cambodian workers will arrive in Hong Kong this autumn, adding to the 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines – who already work in the city.

But those five years could well prove tumultuous, worker advocates warn, as both Hong Kong and Cambodia have chequered histories when it comes to the exploitation of such workers.

The success of the deal, they say, will hinge on both sides’ ability to stamp out corrupt practices among recruiters, improve worker training – and on whether the Cambodian government can muster the political willpower to act on cases of abuse.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung, left, and Cambodia’s Minister of Labour and Vocational and Training H.E. Ith Sam Heng signed the domestic helper deal earlier this week. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Cases of abuse of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong surface periodically – in part an almost inevitable consequence of the large numbers working in the city – and often receive widespread media coverage.

Indonesian worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih became a cause célèbre when in January 2014 she accused her Hong Kong employer of subjecting her to six months of physical abuse, with photographs of her injuries spreading through social media and prompting widespread outrage. So well-known did her case become that Time magazine included her on its list of 100 most powerful people that year.

But her case is far from unique; cases of helpers falling to their deaths while cleaning flat windows are not unheard of, while workers frequently complain of loan-sharking and exploitation by employment agencies.

One bad omen for the deal may be the arrangement between Hong Kong and Myanmar in early 2014 that envisaged bringing in 2,000 maids in the first year. Six months after their arrival, about one in five of the first 90 helpers had already returned home as they could not adjust to life in the city.

The Myanmar government later banned its women from working as maids in Singapore or Hong Kong because of concerns over abuse and exploitation.

In recent months, the Hong Kong government has moved to clamp down on exploitative practices, in part by introducing a code of practice for employment agencies.

“The government’s code of practice and more staff to monitor the actions of employment agencies were good steps, but in reality, I don’t think it goes far enough to make the Hong Kong [employment] agencies understand that they have an ongoing duty to ensure the safety of workers,” said Jade Anderson, anti-human trafficking coordinator at the Hong Kong Justice Centre.

“And there is certainly anecdotal evidence of increased vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking for workers coming to Hong Kong without proper support networks or communities.”

Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation

Part of the deal between Hong Kong and Cambodia requires the helpers to undergo three months of cooking and health care training prior to their arrival, but Anderson said this was not enough to prevent exploitation and that more education was needed on workers’ legal rights.

“Even after training, their language skills are still not sufficient enough to understand the reams of documentation that agencies place in front of them and ask them to sign. This is one area where there is tremendous scope for exploitation.”

The workers will arrive this autumn from a country where the minimum wage is just US$153 per month, female education levels are low and corruption and exploitation commonplace.

Members of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body at a march to demand increased salaries for domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Government data shows just 65 per cent of Cambodian girls in poor rural areas transition from primary to secondary school and by the time they reach senior years, at least 30 per cent have dropped out. But opposition lawmaker and women’s rights campaigner, Mu Sochua, from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, says the dropout rate could be far higher, with only 14 per cent of female students in rural areas completing high school. As a result, many female Cambodian workers are desperate for higher paying jobs but are largely ill equipped for what the work will entail.

“An estimated two million youth are unskilled labourers in neighbouring countries. This will not improve without a vision, a real investment in the national budget and political will,” she said.

“Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation.”

The treatment of Cambodian migrant workers overseas, in such countries as Malaysia and Singapore, has long been a matter of controversy. In 2011, Cambodia banned workers from travelling to Malaysia after repeated cases of abuse surfaced. That decision had an undesired effect – causing workers to go underground, leaving participants even more exposed to exploitation. The ban was lifted in 2015.

Reflecting on Cambodia’s reaction to the abuse in Malaysia, Roiki Harima, managing director of the Mekong Migration Network, said embassies needed to play a bigger role in investigating mistreatment.

“To date, the embassies and consulates have not been responsive and that is something we want to see improved. Rather than bans, countries such as Cambodia need more political willpower to take concrete steps to improve the situation in receiving nations,” she said.

Mu Sochua, centre, a Cambodian opposition lawmaker, says corruption in the country’s own domestic worker recruitment agencies is a major hurdle to establishing a new deal. Photo: AFP

In 2013, Cambodia signed up to an ill-fated pilot scheme to provide Singapore with migrant workers. Alex Au Waipang, of the Singapore-based Transient Workers Count Too, said many Cambodian workers had lacked the support, education and maturity to work overseas. “Being the first in a pioneering batch, there was no community to really help them adjust,” he said, adding that the NGOs were equally unprepared. “Compared to Indonesian or Filipino workers … many Cambodians just wanted to go home. They were not ready to be domestic helpers. They were homesick.”

Like the Hong Kong-Cambodia deal, training was promised as part of the Singapore pilot scheme. But Au said the training was either non-existent or ineffective as many Cambodian workers were familiar with neither modern household amenities nor basic English. “So what were they trained for, we wonder?”

In addition to cultural differences, Au, Sochua and Harima cited falsified documents and qualifications, underage workers, employment agency corruption and the unofficial licensing of rural recruitment agents in Cambodia as ongoing problems.

“Compounding the issues was that the girls were underage, not even adults and potentially not of the education level required,” Au said of the Singapore experience. “About half the cases we saw were like that. There were so many things wrong, I hardly know where to begin.”

Au said Hong Kong needed to inspect the situation in Cambodia as well as recruitment and training agencies in both countries. But above all, it needed to establish a community for the workers. “If we could do it all over again, I would first bring in the Cambodian men,” he said.

“Take the Burmese for example. In Singapore, the men were brought in first, as construction workers, who quickly formed a community because they were out and about, did not live with family and tended to start businesses like restaurants [and visited temples]. Then, all of a sudden, we had access to translators and when the domestic workers began to arrive – sure there was some homesickness – that community took root much faster.”
By: Edouard Morton, South China Morning
Published on: 29 April 2017

“Workers are City Makers”: MMN co-organizes a 3-day exhibition on the history of Northern Thailand’s labour movement

21-23 April 2017, Chiang Mai

From 21-23 April, MMN co-organized an exhibition on the history of Northern Thailand’s labour movement in collaboration with 19 other organizations working on labour issues across Thailand’s Northern provinces.

Presentations, seminar discussions, and an exhibition – including photos and a multimedia documentary from MMN’s “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants” project – drew an audience to the third floor of Chiang Mai’s Central Airport Plaza over the course of the 3 days.

Day 1:

Mr. Arak Phrommanee, Advisor to the Minister of Labour, opened the exhibition on Friday 21 April. During his presentation, Mr. Phrommanee acknowledged the fact that while informal workers make up more than half of the Thai workforce and are undeniably essential to the nation’s economy, many of these workers are highly vulnerable and often lack access to social welfare.

The Advisor to the Minister of Labour declared that the Ministry aspires to improve the protection of informal workers under Thai labour laws; increase informal workers’ access to social welfare, sustainable income, and occupational health and safety practices; and enable the formation of trade unions in the informal sector. However, he noted, the effective management and protection of informal workers in Thailand remains a challenge.

Following his presentation, Mr. Arak Phrommanee was guided through the exhibition by a representative of the organizing committee to view organizations’ and unions’ displays, including MMN’s photos illustrating the social inclusion and exclusion of Mekong migrant workers and their families.

Keynote speaker and a professor from Chiang Mai University, Dr. Attajak Sattayanurak, continued the presentations by contextualizing Thailand’s national economy and labour market, which is being shaped by the country’s aging population. His presentation also highlighted the growing economic significance of the informal sector and issues of workers’ identities.

A seminar discussion titled, “We’re all Workers”, concluded Friday’s event and was comprised of speakers representing workers from academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), state enterprises, and the informal sector; workers affected by exposure to potassium chlorate in longan production; and workers who are members of trade unions.

Day 2:

Saturday 22 April marked day 2 of the exhibition and commenced with “Lanna 4.0” – a seminar discussion on working conditions in the digital age. Five speakers participated in the discussion, including an academic, an independent journalist, a freelance and sharing-economy worker, a representative of the Contract Farmers Network, and a representative of a group of persons with disabilities doing piecework.

Following the seminar, members of EMPOWER Foundation took to the stage to present on the history of Thailand’s sex industry highlighting the significant contributions sex workers make to the national economy. Presenters also described their personal involvement in Thailand’s labour movement and the birth of EMPOWER as an organization.

Day 3:

The final day of the 3-day exhibition on the history of Northern Thailand’s labour movement took place on Sunday 23 April and centered on the issues facing migrant workers in Thailand.

Following a musical performance by Thai Paradon Band and an introductory speech by a representative of the Northern Labour Network, MMN kicked off the event with an overview of the project and screening of the Thai-language multimedia presentation, “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants”, which promotes the social inclusion of Mekong migrants and their families.

After the screening, a migrant worker in the audience shared: “I hope local people will understand how migrant workers feel. Thank you for giving migrant workers the opportunity to be here.”

Members of Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) – an independent association founded by Shan migrant workers living in Chiang Mai – performed a cultural dance and shared stories and photos of their working conditions and everyday realities, which strived to counter narratives of migrant workers ‘stealing’ jobs from local people.

The exhibition concluded with a final seminar discussion highlighting the social and economic contributions of migrant workers in Thailand from the perspective of an academic, NGO worker, employer, and the media.

MMN Secretariat presented MMN’s photos on the social inclusion and exclusion of migrant workers to Mr. Arak Phrommanee, Advisor to the Minister of Labour.

Professor Dr. Attajak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University was the keynote speaker at the event.

A seminar titled, “We’re all workers”, included speakers representing workers from academia, NGOs, state enterprises, informal sector, and affected workers (in a case of exposure to potassium chlorate in longan production).

Thai Pardon Band performed at the event each day.

EMPOWER Foundation presented the history of Thailand’s sex industry.

MMN screened the multimedia presentation titled, “‘Beyond Tolerance’: Living together with Migrants” (Thai language).

A Shan cultural dance was performed by members of Workers Solidarity Association (WSA).

During “Photo Stories”, a member of WSA shared her story and photos of her working conditions and everyday reality.

During “Photo Stories”, a male domestic worker and member of WSA shared his story and photos of his working conditions and everyday reality.

A group photo of WSA representatives at the event.

A seminar discussion on working conditions in the digital age titled, “Lanna 4.0”.

MMN’s photo exhibition at the event.

The audience gave comments on MMN’s photos.

Members of EMPOWER presented on the origin of EMPOWER Foundation.

MMN’s photo exhibition being viewed by the public.

 

For more photos and videos from the event, please visit the MMN Facebook Page.

International Migrants Day 2016 in Yangon, Burma/Myanmar

 

International Migrants Day (IMD) 2016 was celebrated at Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) in Yangon on 18 December. The Myanmar Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Labour Organizations (LOs) Network for Migrants organized the event with support from International Labour Organization-Yangon (ILO-Yangon) and UN ACT. The theme of this year’s event was: “Respect Migrants’ Power, Give Equality Now!”

The event attracted over 1,000 participants ranging from migrant returnees to individual workers, and members of labour unions and various community-based organizations. MMN member organization 88 Generation Peace and Open Society took part in the celebration. MMN managed a photo booth at the event and distributed publications to the public. There were around 300 people who came to the photo booth and around 600 people who visited the publication table.

Ms. Jackie Pollock from ILO-Yangon gave the opening speech, which introduced the event and listed reasons to celebrate. There were also speeches presented by Mr. Myo Min on behalf of the Myanmar CSOs and LOs Network, Anti-Human Trafficking Ambassador Ms. Khine Hnin Wai, and Mr. Aung Myo Min representing Equality Network Myanmar.

Mr. Aung Myo Min’s presentation urged the Myanmar Government to ratify the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and to recognize and value migrants’ contributions to society. During the event, attendees played games and quizzes, which tested their knowledge of IMD, labour migration, and migration issues.

 

International Migrants Day 2016 Statement

 

The Myanmar Civil Society Organizations and Labour Organizations Network for Migrants urges the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to:

 

  1. Promote better job opportunities, raise wages, and promote skills as a migrant-sending country;
  1. Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW 1990);
  1. Prioritize safe labour migration for migrant workers without any fees;
  1. Protect migrant workers from exploitation and trafficking, reduce inequality, and ensure migrant workers enjoy full labour rights, especially women migrants;
  1. Work together on social security and social protection with other government officials in ASEAN;
  1. Work with governments, employers, and organizations to promote migrant children’s access to fundamental rights, including citizenship rights;
  1. Establish effective laws and policies for labour migration and give proper penalties to the agencies and individuals who violate codes of conduct; and
  1. Establish effective laws to protect fishing boat workers and domestic workers.

 

Assessment Meeting for MMN’s Myanmar National Training on Responses to Labour Migration and Burma/Myanmar CSO Country Visits to Thailand and Cambodia

 

On 19 December 2016, MMN held an assessment meeting in Yangon, Myanmar. The objective of the meeting was to evaluate the MMN’s Myanmar National Training on Responses to Labour Migration, facilitated in early September in Yangon, and the Burma/Myanmar civil society organization (CSO) country visits to Thailand and Cambodia, carried out throughout November and December, as well as to discuss possible areas for future collaboration and joint advocacy.

Facilitated by representatives of EMPOWER Foundation – a Thailand-based MMN member organization – and the MMN Secretariat, the assessment involved the CSO representatives who participated in both the training and country visits.

Overall, the meeting participants stated that they were satisfied with each of the activities, in part, due to gaining a deeper understanding of migration-related issues. Participants exclaimed that the five-day national training increased their knowledge of labour migration purposes, channels, and policies in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. In addition, they felt that the country visits to Thailand and Cambodia furthered their understanding of the reality of migration as a result of discussions with migrant communities and CSOs engaging directly with migrant workers and their families. These interactions helped reveal major push factors of labour migration, such as economic hardship, and the challenges that accompany migration, including obtaining documentation and securing migrant children’s education. Participants expressed that they not only learned more about migration-related issues through these activities, but also about effective awareness raising and advocacy strategies from interacting with like-minded CSOs. Moreover, participants declared that the national training helped to improve their statement writing, campaign organizing, and panel discussion facilitation skills.

Suggestions that surfaced from the evaluation session included MMN facilitating future trainings on: advocacy, campaigning, networking, organizational management skills, research skills, and Mekong labour migration policies. Participants also discussed the possibility of collectively raising awareness on safe migration processes and working to provide a safe space and employment opportunities for migrant returnees. Facilitating pre-departure trainings in rural areas and industrial zones across Burma/Myanmar was also mentioned. The session concluded with participants expressing their desire to collaborate with MMN again in the future.

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