Category Archives: Organized by MMN

Statement from International Women’s Day 2019, Chiang Mai

On 8 March 2019, Mekong Migration Network took part in a celebration of International Women’s Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Migrant women from across Thailand and representatives of civil society organisations took to the streets of Chiang Mai to honour the achievements of women–past and present–and demand an end to the injustices women continue to face.

Read our joint statement of the event in EnglishBurmese, or Thai.

 

MMN Consultation on Labour Migration from Myanmar to Japan

On 15 October 2018, Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) jointly organised the Consultation on Labour Migration from Myanmar to Japan at the Sedona Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar. The consultation was held at a time when anticipation was growing with regards to Japan amending its migration policy to receive increased numbers of migrants and possibly under a different scheme. Early 2018, the Japanese government announced their intention to recruit upwards 500,000 foreign workers by 2025 to fill gaps in the country’s labour market and to open a new pathway to migrants. Myanmar is considered by Japan to be a key source of migrant workers. In April 2018, Japan and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to set the commitments and responsibilities of both countries in the sending and accepting of technical intern trainees.

Given this background, MMN and ILO held the consultation meeting with the aims to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the migration procedures from Myanmar to Japan and to jointly explore interventions and strategies to increase the efficiency and safety of the migration routes. Over 40 participants attended the event, including representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, and Population (MOLIP), the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies’ Federation (MOEAF), overseas recruitment agencies, and civil society organisations, the labour attaché from the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, experts on Japanese migration, and migrant returnees.

In the first plenary entitled, “The Recruitment and Deployment of Myanmar Workers to Japan: Policies and Trends”, Ms. Khin Cho Win, the Assistant Director of the Department of Labour from the MOLIP, reported that 60 of the 259 licensed private recruitment agencies have been sending workers to various sectors including seafood processing, construction, agriculture, garment and welding since the signing of the MOC. Mr. Win Htun, the Vice Chairperson of the MOEAF, then outlined the procedures for the recruitment of Myanmar workers to Japan, which can take up to three to four months to complete. In the ensuing open discussion, concerns were shared regarding the causes for migrants to leave their posts in Japan without properly terminating their contracts. Mr. Asato Wako, Associate Professor from Kyoto University, suggested that poor labour conditions in Japan remain the key reasons for migrants to leave their jobs and should be addressed as the foremost issue.

In the second plenary titled “The Employment of Myanmar Workers in Japan: Policies and Trend”, Mr. Yuta Isozaki, Labour Attaché from the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, discussed Japan’s growing need for migrant workers and the newly introduced TITP law in November 2017 that offers more protection to migrant workers in Japan. The Japanese government also plans to recruit migrant workers through an alternative pathway to the TITP. Professor Asato explained that the new TITP law in 2017 has increased enforcement power, but continues to leave several issues unaddressed. These include the high rate of Myanmar migrants leaving their posts without terminating their contracts and the lack of a mechanism to prevent involuntary repatriation imposed by employers. Professor Asato also questioned whether the TITP can really achieve its stated objectives of “transfer[ring] technical skills, techniques and knowledge to Myanmar” and “contribut[ing] to the human resource development of Myanmar”. He doubted that all migrants can gain skills useful enough to utilise in their country of origin. In the discussion that followed, participants pointed out the need for accrediting workers’ skills both in Myanmar and Japan.

In the third plenary, Ms. Kyawt Kyawt Aung and Ms. Thiri Tun, migrant returnees from Japan, shared the problems they faced while working in Japan. When their labour rights have been violated, they found it difficult to hold their employer in Japan and sending organisation in Myanmar accountable despite their numerous efforts to contact authorities. They urged the MOLIP to play a more active role in providing support to migrants on site as well as upon return.

After the plenaries, participants explored the opportunities and challenges involved in the migration to Japan from the perspectives of migrant workers, the government and private recruitment agencies. Based on the results of the discussion, participants came up with several recommendations concerning the roles of the country of origin (Myanmar) and destination (Japan), the facilitation of dialogue among different stakeholders in Myanmar and Japan, the development of sound remittance systems, and the strengthening of overseas support for migrants and assistance for return and reintegration.

Workshop on Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong

On 5 August 2018, Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised a workshop entitled “Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong” at the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The workshop aimed to: 1) clarify the concepts of various frameworks surrounding/relating to labour migration, such as trafficking, slavery, forced labour, etc; 2) examine the implications of these frameworks on labour migration, particularly on migrant labour in fisheries; and 3) exchange views on what can be done to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families in fisheries. Approximately 30 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) working on labour migration throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region attended the workshop.

The workshop started with a presentation by Ms. Jackie Pollock, a representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Myanmar, who clarified the concepts of various frameworks. Ms. Pollock provided definitions on the key terms often applied to the conditions of migrant labour in the fishing industry, including human trafficking, smuggling, forced labour, slavery and decent work. She emphasised that international laws do not clearly specify the situations under which each framework should be adopted. This has led to the different approaches adopted to address the exploitation of migrants in the fishing industry, including the 3Ps/4Ps (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution & and Partnership), anti-slavery, corporate social responsibility, United Nation Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Decent Work and FLEX (Focus on Labour Exploitation). During the discussion following the presentation, Ms. Pollock also pointed out the need to challenge the Thai government’s use of an anti-trafficking framework to address the issues in the fishing industry. Such a framework draws energy, resources and commitment away from the empowerment of migrants and the promotion of their labour rights, and instead places its focus on prosecuting traffickers and victimising migrants. She believed that the government’s adoption of this framework reflects its fear that migrants would be able to unionise, exercise their rights and become a threat to be reckoned with.

The plenary session was followed by the screening of a recent Human Rights Watch’s documentary entitled, “Thailand: Forced Labour, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets,” which explores the changes (and the lack thereof) in the fishing industry after the Thai government stepped up its efforts to stop human trafficking and forced labour in the industry. To view the documentary, please visit:  https://youtu.be/8FbrfgRmfyI.

In the second plenary entitled, “Understanding the Day-to-Day Reality of Working at Sea”, Mr. Sompong Srakaew from the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN) presented on the situation of migrant workers in the fishing industry in Thailand and LPN’s initiatives to provide assistance to workers in the industry. Mr. Sompong expressed his concerns about the effectiveness of government measures, especially the implementation of mechanisms to manage and protect migrant workers. In one case where several fishery workers were stranded in Indonesia and continued to endure physical abuse and severe working conditions that sometimes resulted in their deaths, the Thai government only offered support to the Thai workers on board, rather than the Myanmar and Cambodian workers who were also on the Thai vessel. In light of this, LPN aims to support both Thai and migrant fishery workers by assisting them in forming unions to raise their voices and promote their rights.

Mr. Tun Lin from the Thai and Migrant Fisheries Union Group (TMFG) then presented on his 11 years of experience working as a fishery worker.  He spoke of the exploitative and rights-violating practices that he lived through first hand, such as not being paid his salary, not receiving rest periods even when he was sick, and not being compensated when he lost his fingers from an accident in Indonesia–experiences that motivated him to become a migrant leader and collaborate with Thai fishery workers to help other migrants exercise their rights. Mr. Tun Lin and LPN’s mission to assist fishery workers stranded in Indonesia was filmed and made into a documentary titled, “Ghost Fleets”. For further information about the documentary, please visit: http://www.vulcanproductions.com/ghostfleet/TheFilm.

In the last plenary entitled, “How are different frameworks used to understand the situation of migrant labour in the fishing industry and what are the implications for policy and programme formulation?”, Mr. Sokchar Mom from Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) discussed the frameworks adopted in Cambodia to protect fishery workers. Mr. Mom noted that laws and policies related to migrants in the fishing industry in Cambodia remain unclear, as the government neither regulates nor bans practices in the industry, which causes migrants to become more vulnerable. He highlighted that current protection programmes focused on trafficked victims have been established under multi-responsive approaches, but seemed to fail when people under the programme continue to re-migrate instead of going through the government assistance process.   

Mr. Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch (HRW) then shared the findings of a recent HRW report that discussed the ongoing cases of forced labour in the fishing industry. Despite the Thai government’s efforts to regulate migration and employment in the fishing industry, unlicensed brokers continue to operate and working conditions have not improved in reality. HRW key recommendations include: drafting a stand-alone law on forced labour, ending restrictions on freedom of movement, granting permission to travel out of province, delinking the status of migrant workers to their employers, implementing an effective complaint mechanisms, publishing a watch list of companies and CEOs with history of Trafficking In Person (TIP) and forced labour, amending the Labour Relations Act to permit migrant workers to form and lead their own unions, ratifying ILO Conventions 87 on the Freedom of Association, Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain, and Convention 188 on work in Fishing.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised their concerns with the ongoing harsh working conditions in the fishing industry and the dysfunctional protection mechanisms. Aside from the ineffective laws and regulations concerning migration management, fishing associations often serve as additional obstacles to migrants obtaining and exercising their full rights. Participants also shared their own experiences with advocating for migrant workers’ rights and made suggestions on advocacy strategies to more effectively promote migrant workers’ rights in the fishing industry.

 

 

The Mekong Migration Network and Clean Clothes Campaign co-organise a series of back-to-back workshops on the global garment industry

In January 2018, the Mekong Migration Network and Clean Clothes Campaign joined forces to co-organise a series of back-to-back workshops on the global garment industry with a particular focus on the garment-producing country of Myanmar (Burma).

Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) is a global alliance of trade unions and NGOs, based in both garment-producing and consuming markets, that are dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the garment industry. CCC works in solidarity with organised garment factory workers to develop concrete cases of labour rights violations and execute campaign strategies to pressure companies and governments to ensure that the rights of these workers are implemented and respected.

In collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), MMN is conducting a research and advocacy project exploring the policies and practices of the garment industry operating in industrial zones and Special Economic Zones in Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The project will investigate how these particular environments impact cross-border and internal women migrant workers’ working and living conditions, life choices, participation in collective action, and relationship with local communities.

In recognition of the rapid expansion of Myanmar’s export-oriented garment industry and the subsequent need to better understand the challenges facing workers in this sector, MMN and CCC co-hosted a workshop and network exchange on 15 and 16 January in Yangon. On 15 January, 21 representatives from Yangon-based trade unions and civil society organisations, as well as 9 people representing trade unions and organisations from Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and the Netherlands, gathered at Sagawa Meeting Spaces to participate in the MMN/CCC Garment Worker Labour Rights Workshop. By means of interactive presentations, group discussions, and activities, participants exchanged information on the key challenges facing garment factory workers and labour rights activists in their countries as well as strategies used to promote and protect the rights of these workers.

On 16 January, 6 trade union and CSO representatives from Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Norway joined the previous day’s participants for the MMN/CCC Network Exchange. This meeting carved a space for Myanmar unions and organisations to share information on the garment industry in Myanmar, the challenges being faced by Yangon garment factory workers, and the interests and priorities of unions and labour organisations. The meeting provided an opportunity for Myanmar organisations to better understand the workings of MMN and CCC respectively, as well as develop partnerships with likeminded groups in other countries.

Following a fruitful exchange, CCC network members and MMN project partners relocated to Bangkok to partake in a three-day CCC Urgent Appeals Global Meeting. From 17-19 January, around 60 people from over 20 countries across Asia, Europe, and North America met to review, evaluate, and improve upon CCC’s internal campaigning system. During the meeting, the MMN Secretariat made a presentation on the implications of Special Economic Zones for workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion as part of a series of presentations on global trends affecting the garment industry. The MMN Secretariat and project partners also had an opportunity to present an overview of the joint MMN-AIT research project and seek feedback on advocacy strategies from members of CCC.

While wearied from organising and participating in consecutive meetings, MMN project partners and Secretariat members departed Bangkok feeling inspired by the momentum of the CCC network and the possibility of joining forces again in the future to advocate for the protection of the rights of garment factory workers in the Mekong.

       

The Second Project Consultation Meeting for an MMN-AIT Joint Project on Special Economic Zones and the Garment Industry

In collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), MMN is conducting a research and advocacy project exploring the policies and practices of the garment industry operating in industrial zones and Special Economic Zones in Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The project is investigating how these particular environments impact cross-border and internal women migrant workers’ working and living conditions, life choices, participation in collective action, and relationship with local communities.

On 13 and 14 January 2018, MMN project partners and Secretariat members, AIT project personnel, and resources persons congregated at Sagawa Meeting Spaces in Yangon, Myanmar, for the Second Project Consultation Meeting. The objectives of the meeting were: (1) for project partners to share information on the progress of the research and reflect on key issues and challenges; (2) to jointly review and analyse preliminary findings from data collection activities; (3) to jointly discuss future data collection activities, including in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews; (4) to jointly discuss advocacy targets and strategies; and (5) to jointly draft a work plan and review the budget for the remainder of the project.

From November 2016 to February 2017, preliminary studies were conducted in each of the five study sites: Yangon, Mae Sot, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Bavet. During these studies, local research teams and representatives of the MMN Secretariat and AIT jointly discussed the project’s core research questions, methodology, and benefits, and conducting preliminary interviews with key informants, including government officials and zone management committees, and garment factory workers to better understand the context of each area.

Based on a review of relevant literature, internal meeting discussions, and the preliminary studies, garment factory worker questionnaires were drafted and translated, and enumerator trainings were conducted with local research teams. With 200 questionnaires in the process of being completed with workers in each study site, translated, encoded and analysed, project partners, the MMN Secretariat, and AIT looked to the next phase of the project. Moving forward, MMN partners, Secretariat members, and AIT will work together to conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with workers, carry out additional key informant interviews, draft a final report and country-specific policy briefs, present initial findings at a joint multi-stakeholder meeting, and launch the report and recommendations at provincial-level stakeholder meetings within the course of this year.

         

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