Category Archives: Statements

Press Release: Stakeholders from Mekong Countries and Japan Discuss Ways to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers from Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar in Japan

16 July 2019

Press Release: Stakeholders from Mekong Countries and Japan Discuss Ways to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers from Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar in Japan

The Code of Conduct signed by recruitment agencies, the feasibility of a Zero Recruitment Fee model, the need to provide accurate information to prospective migrants, and the importance of networking were among the issues discussed at the multi-stakeholder Workshop organised by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) in collaboration with Kyoto University on 8 July 2019 in Tokyo.

The workshop was organsied in anticipation of increased labour migration from Mekong countries, as Japan seeks to plug gaps in its rapidly shrinking labour force. Under the current Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), Vietnam (72,637), Myanmar (3,692), and Cambodia (3,328),[1] make up a significant proportion of the migrant workers in Japan. However, these relatively modest numbers are expected to increase rapidly, following the Japanse government’s announcement that it intends to welcome an additional 345,000 migrant workers within five years. To facilitate this policy change, Japan’s strict immigration laws have been amended and a new “Specified Skilled Worker” visa category created. Japan has also signed bilateral Memoranda of Cooperation (MoC) with Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar to facilitate the implementation of the new scheme.[2]

Given these developments, MMN gathered more than 35 stakeholders to address potential challenges and opportunities from the perspective of both Japan and countries of origin. Participants included representatives from the Embassy of Vietnam in Japan, the Vietnam Association of Manpower Supply (VAMAS), the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), inter-governmental organisations, recruitment agencies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan, as well as academic experts on labour migration.

In discussing the TITP, participants agreed that migrants employed under the scheme are in effect workers not “trainees”, and thus should be treated as such with full respect to their labor rights. Some participants also discussed instances of migrant workers “running away” from their employer under the TITP. In response, Mr Torii Ippei from the Solidarity Network with Migrants in Japan (SMJ) suggested that the term “runaways” was not appropriate, as it implies wrongdoing on the part of migrants. He said “We must be clear – the fundamental issue here lies with the system that denies migrant workers freedom to choose and change employers. I don’t think ‘running away’ is a bad thing. All Japanese citizens have the right to change jobs… When migrants ‘run away’, they are exercising the same right that all Japanese citizens enjoy.”

CSOs in Japan also highlighted a number of issues faced by migrant workers, including cases where migrant workers signed employment contracts in their own languages that contained clauses that did not appear in the Japanese original. In one example, a migrant worker signed a contract in her own language that included a clause requiring her to return home if she became pregnant, which is a clear violation of Japan’s labour law. Mr Kazuomi Aoyagi from the Alliance of Associations for Diversity and Inclusion Acceleration in Japan, remarked, “migrant workers are human beings. They should not be denied the right to love, reproduce and start a family.”

With regards to recruitment procedures in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, Professor Wako Asato from Kyoto University expressed concerns that even though Japan signed similar MoCs with the three countries to implement the TITP, recruitment practices differ greatly among the three countries. One such difference relates to recruitment fees that may be collected from workers. Recruitment agencies cannot charge more than USD 2,800 in Myanmar and USD 3,600 in Vietnam. In Cambodia, there are no legal caps. Higher recruitment fees impose a heavier financial burden on migrant workers and can be one reason why migrant workers are under pressure to leave their jobs in search of better paying employment opportunities. Professor Asato believed that under the new “Specified Skilled Workers” visa scheme, recruitment practices across different countries of origin will likely differ, because key components of the new scheme, such as the ability for employers in Japan to directly hire migrant workers, may be difficult to implement in some countries of origin. Moreover, the Japanese government has signaled its intention to avoid getting involved in the details of how the scheme will be implemented in countries of origin.

There was a general consensus at the workshop that countries of origin must avoid a “race to the bottom” scenario regarding the terms and benefits they afford workers migrating from their respective countries to Japan. Given the example of the Philippines, where workers bound for Japan are not charged recruitment fees and the cost falls on employers regulated by Memorandum of Circular, recruitment agency associations in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam discussed the possibility of looking into the Zero Recruitment Fee model, although they felt that it was not feasible to implement at this point. The recruitment agency associations have however developed measures to encourage and promote good recruitment practices, including an industry code of conduct. In Vietnam, VAMAS has developed a ranking system to rate recruitment agencies’ level of compliance. The results of the ranking can improve overall standards and provide prospective migrants with a useful tool to select between recruitment agencies.

To address challenges arising from labour migration from Mekong countries to Japan, many participants highlighted the need for enhanced collaboration among different stakeholders in countries of origin and destination.  Participants expressed an interest in deepening the dialogue to ensure migrant workers are well protected throughout the migration cycle.

 

ABOUT MMN

Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN’s areas of joint action include collaborative research, advocacy, capacity building and networking. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

 

For more information about the workshop, please contact:

 



 

[1] Figures as of 2018. Source: Immigration Services Agency.

[2] MoC’s on the Basic Framework for Information Partnership for Proper Operation of the System pertaining to Foreign Human Resources with the Status of Residence of “Specified Skilled Worker”, were signed with Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam on 25 March 2019, 28 March 2019, and 1 July 2019 respectively.

Panel Discussion and Launch of the Report “Jobs in SEZs: Migrant Garment Factory Workers in the Mekong Region”

On 3 July at 6 pm, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) will be launching the report “Jobs in SEZs: Migrant Garment Factory Workers in the Mekong Region” at SEA-Junction in Bangkok, Thailand. Supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, the report presents the research findings of labour and migration issues in select Special Economic Zones in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, with a particular focus on the garment industry.

At the launch, the MMN and the AIT will hold a panel discussion to talk about key findings of the report. For more information on the event, please click the link below.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2255695414517925/

See you there!

Mekong special economic zones commit to promoting ‘decent work’ for women migrant workers

During the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and Asian Institute of Technology’s (AIT) workshop, Jobs in SEZs: Promoting Gender-Sensitive Policies in the Mekong Region, representatives of governments, special economic zone (SEZ) management bodies, and civil society from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Thailand, committed to promoting decent work in Mekong SEZs. 

From 20-21 June, representatives of the Myanmar, Cambodian and Thai governments, Thilawa SEZ and Phnom Penh SEZ management committees, employer associations, UN agencies, Asian Development Bank, and civil society organisations (CSOs) gathered in Bangkok to hear research findings and recommendations from the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and Asian Institute of Technology’s (AIT) recent project and forthcoming report that will be published next month, and to discuss what SEZs can and should do to promote opportunities for decent work for women migrant workers.  

Influenced by the project’s findings on limited childcare supports for migrant workers in SEZs, Dr. Than Than Thwe, Joint Secretary 1 of Myanmar’s Thilawa SEZ Management Committee, presented a three-year plan to conduct a detailed survey on the childcare needs of Thilawa SEZ workers. This survey would lead to the implementation of SEZ-based, as well as potentially community-based, childcare centres. Dr. Than Than Thwe explained that factory owners’ monthly Corporate Social Responsibility contributions could support the development of these centres. 

“On-site childcare is a win for everyone,” Dr. Than Than Thwe exclaimed, from employers, as it would contribute to “reducing labour shortages” and “increasing productivity,” to employees, as it would provide “a safe environment for their children” and “emotional security.” Spurred by the example of Thilawa SEZ, Mr. Sun Samouen, Senior Human Resource Manager of Phnom Penh SEZ, informed the plenary that Phnom Penh SEZ would also begin investigating the possibility of setting up a childcare centre in the zone. 

Another encouraging initiative was shared by Mr. Soe Naing, Deputy Director of the Department of Labour under Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (MOLIP), and a representative of the Labour Section of Thilawa SEZ. Mr. Soe Naing informed participants that SEZ-based firms have agreed to pay new workers the full minimum wage from the onset of employment rather than training and probationary-period wages, which are legally less than the statutory minimum wage of 4,800 Myanmar kyat (or around 3 US dollars) per day.

During the workshop, participants from Myanmar actively debated the project’s recommendation to pay workers a living wage, agreeing on the need to study and account for inflation and the rising cost of living for families as opposed to gauging it on an individual’s basic needs, when devising a new minimum wage rate. A Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia representative shared Cambodia’s standing practice of reviewing the minimum wage annually through tripartite negotiations in line with ILO standards, and encouraged the Myanmar counterparts to consider doing the same. Since Myanmar’s Minimum Wage Law was adopted in 2013, a new minimum wage rate has been set roughly once every two years.

MMN and AIT researchers shared project findings revealing restrictions on workers’ access to freedom of association and limited social dialogue platforms across all of the studied SEZs. Study respondents reported cases of collective industrial actions being suppressed, trade unions struggling to be established, and outside unions failing to access workers inside the zones. During the meeting, representatives of the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee and MOLIP expressed a commitment to working with trade unions and labour rights organisations moving forward; a commitment which CSOs intend to closely follow up on. 

 Despite seeming enthusiasm for improved working conditions and access to labour rights in SEZs from some Myanmar and Cambodian actors, participants acknowledged the challenges that exist for Myanmar cross-border migrant workers in Thailand’s Tak SEZ. Employers in Tak are increasingly registering migrant workers for border passes under Section 64 of the Royal Ordinance on the Management of Foreign Workers Employment B.E. 2560 (2017), which grants workers 30-day visas and 90-day work permits. This form of registration excludes migrant workers from accessing social security benefits, limits their movement to the three districts classified as Tak SEZ, and prevents them from migrating with dependents, further reducing childcare options. 

While issues were raised related to the need to recognise workers’ skills and pay them accordingly, CSOs shared that migrant workers in Tak SEZ continue to receive far less than the 310 Thai baht (10 US dollars) daily minimum wage, with the study finding that workers were receiving around 57% of the minimum wage (174 Thai baht or 5.66 US dollars) on average.

From 2016 to 2019, MMN and AIT, supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), investigated labour and migration issues through a gendered lens in four SEZs: Thilawa SEZ in Myanmar, Phnom Penh SEZ and Manhattan SEZ in Cambodia, and Tak SEZ in Thailand. Guided by the question of whether the jobs being created within Mekong SEZs are promoting ‘decent work’ – an International Labour Organization (ILO) concept for fair and secure job opportunities – for women migrant workers, the study focused its attention on the garment industry within these zones.

SEZ development has been expanding in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) in recent years. Myanmar is constructing three SEZs, while there are roughly 30 in Cambodia, 10 in Thailand, and over 30 in other GMS countries. The garment industry is being established in these spaces as investment privileges and quality infrastructure are aimed at attracting manufacturers seeking low production and labour costs.

Women represent the majority of the garment industry’s workforce, but are often concentrated in the lowest paying positions with the least recognised skills. The challenges they face are compounded when they are also migrants, who experience a unique set of vulnerabilities. Within the GMS, manufacturing production in SEZs increasingly hinges on internal and cross-border migrant labour. 

Although MMN and AIT’s study found that the potential of Mekong SEZs to support decent work has not yet been realised, multi-stakeholder discussion during the two-day workshop, and the commitments expressed by the management teams of Cambodian and Myanmar SEZs, left some participants feeling hopeful that, through sustained collaborative and transparent efforts, SEZs could have the potential to set an example for decent labour practices. 

 

ABOUT MMN & AIT 

Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), founded in 1959, is a regional institution for higher education based in Pathum Thani, Thailand. 

 

For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org

For more information on AIT, please visit AIT’s webpage at: www.ait.ac.th 

For more information on the project, please visit: www.dds.ait.ac.th/jobs-at-the-border    

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

For more information about the workshop, project or forthcoming publication, please contact:

MMN Releases Proceedings of the Consultation on Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan

 

On 18 February 2019, Mekong Migration Network (MMN), Cambodian Women Crisis Centre (CWCC) and Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) jointly organised the Consultation on Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan at the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The meeting was convened in anticipation of changes in Japanese immigration law, which will enter into force in April 2019. The new law will create a new migration pathway for Cambodians who are considered “Specified Skilled Workers.” Along with the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), the new immigration law is intended to attract migrant workers to fill gaps in Japan’s labour market created by its rapidly ageing population. Under the new migration scheme, employers can directly hire migrant workers and migrant workers will be allowed to change employers within the same sector. Japan considers Cambodia a key source of migrant workers and Cambodia is reported to be one of eight Asian countries that Japan will negotiate a new bilateral agreement on managing labour migration with.

Given this background, MMN, CWCC and LSCW held the consultation with the aim to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the migration process from Cambodia to Japan and to jointly explore interventions and strategies to improve the efficacy of migration procedures and safety of migrants. Over 50 participants exchanged their views at the event, including representatives of the Cambodian government, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), Manpower Association of Cambodia (MAC), Private Recruitment Agencies (PRAs), and academic experts on Japanese migration.

The two plenaries of the consultation addressed a number of topics such as trends, policies and recruitment practices of workers migrating from Cambodia to Japan, issues relating to migrants who leave their jobs without properly terminating their contracts, mechanisms for skills transfer between the two countries, available support and assistance for migrants, and actual labour conditions at work sites in Japan. These sessions were followed by a keynote speech by Her Excellency, Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Permanent Vice President of the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking, Royal Government of Cambodia, who discussed existing concerns and possible challenges arising from the migration of Cambodian workers to Japan under the current TITP and the future migration pathway. Participants then collectively looked at opportunities and challenges involved in migration from Cambodia to Japan from the perspectives of migrant workers, CSOs, the Cambodian and Japanese governments and private recruitment agencies (PRAs). Based on the results of the discussion, they collectively formulated recommendations to improve the protection of migrant workers.

Click here for the full proceedings of the consultation meeting.

MMN Releases Proceedings of the 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 there was growing anticipation that Japan would liberalise its migration policy to receive increased numbers of migrants. In early 2018, the Japanese government announced its intention to recruit upwards of 500,000 foreign workers by 2025 to fill gaps in the country’s labour market. Japan considers Myanmar 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 commitments and responsibilities of both countries in the sending and accepting of “technical intern trainees.”

Given this background, MMN and ILO held a consultation with the aim to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the migration process from Myanmar to Japan and to jointly explore interventions and strategies to improve the efficacy of migration procedures and safety of migrants. 41 participants attended the event, including representatives from the Myanmar Ministry of Labour, Immigration, and Population (MOLIP), the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), Overseas Employment Agencies (OEAs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), a labour attaché from the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, an expert on Japanese migration, and migrant returnees.

The three plenaries of the consultation addressed a number of topics such as trends, policies and recruitment practices of workers migrating from Myanmar to Japan, issues concerning migrants who leave their jobs in Japan without properly terminating their contracts, mechanisms for skills transfer between the two countries, available support and assistance for migrants, and actual labour conditions at work sites in Japan. Participants then examined the opportunities and challenges involved in migration from Myanmar to Japan from the perspectives of migrant workers, the governments of both countries and OEAs in Myanmar. Based on the results of the discussion, participants collectively developed a set of recommendations to improve existing protections for migrant workers.

Click here to download the full proceedings.

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