Category Archives: Statements

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.

Joint Civil Society Statement concerning Ratification of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)

Joint Civil Society Statement concerning  Ratification of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)   
 
Fishing workers, through the very nature of their work, are especially vulnerable to human trafficking as well as forced, bonded and slave labour, operating as they do in isolated and hazardous conditions. To protect this vulnerable group, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has established basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry.
 
In Thailand, there are an estimated 4.5 million migrant workers with over 222,000 migrant workers in the seafood sector and approximately 71,000 migrant workers on board fishing vessels. Thailand’s seafood exports are valued at over US$5.8 billion annually, making it the third largest seafood exporter in the world. However, the Thai fishing industry has been responsible for systematic illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, and pervasive, horrific human rights abuses.
 
Over the last five years, both the US State Department and European Commission have issued formal warnings to Thailand about its fishing industry. The US sanction came in the form of a downgrade to Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons Report, while the European Commission issued a ‘yellow card’ warning to Thailand on combatting IUU fishing that could lead to a ban on importing Thai seafood products into the European Union. Several non-governmental organizations and prominent international media outlets (such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Guardian, and others) also published critical reports and articles exposing abuses in the Thai fishing industry. The result of this pressure is the Royal Thai Government set about reforming the industry to address the issues of human trafficking, and forced, bonded and slave labour.
 
Ratifying and implementing the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188) would ensure vulnerable fishing workers are sufficiently protected while they work in one of the most dangerous working environments in the world. The Convention establishes minimum labor standards to improve the safety, health and medical care for workers on board fishing vessels, as well as ensuring they have the protection of a written work agreement and the same social security protections as national workers. The Royal Thai Government has already taken several important steps towards ratification of C188, including holding an initial tripartite meeting as well as numerous public hearings. These consultations have paved the way for the successful ratification of this critical convention in the near future.
 
We respectfully urge the Royal Thai Government and the Ministry of Labor to pursue a robust and ambitious approach to ensure ratification of C188 before the end of 2018.  Efforts to reject the C188 by the National Fishing Association of Thailand (NFAT) are sadly unsurprising given NFAT’s reneging on its previous promises to cooperate with the Royal Thai Government to eliminate human and labor rights abuses in the fishing industry. Specifically, we call on the Royal Thai Government to ensure the key provisions of the Convention are included in any final legislation that the Royal Thai Government adopts.We strongly recommend that protections be preserved that provide for decent working and living conditions for the fishers onboard vessels and social security protections. These provisions are vital in preventing workers from being exploited by unscrupulous employers who pay sub-minimum wages, refuse to ensure overtime is voluntary and compensated, and engage in debt bondage and forced labor. Ensuring fishers are included fully in the social security system is critical to protect them if they suffer an occupational accident or an illness. Furthermore, including these provisions will grant workers much needed statutory social security benefits. Other core principles that need to be maintained in the legislation include ensuring a minimum age for fishers, payment of minimum wages, and enforcing limits on working hours.  Current Thai labor law already restricts children under age 18 from working in dirty and dangerous work, in line with ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which Thailand has ratified. NFAT’s continuing demand for exemptions to the child labor laws in the abusive Thai fishing industry demonstrates shocking disregard for the safety of children. The Royal Thai Government should defend its principled stance and reject any proposals to allow 16-year-olds to work on fishing vessels under any circumstances.
 
Discussions between Thailand and migrant worker origin countries (such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam) aimed at formulating new Memorandums of Understanding between the respective parties have not succeeded in addressing the current labour shortage in the Thai fishing industry. The primary reason is self-evident – the Thai fishing industry has a well-deserved reputation for serious and pervasive labor rights abuses. It is little wonder that several origin countries are resistant to formalizing a flow of workers into Thailand to work on fishing vessels without any certainty about the legal protections and enforcement provided to their nationals going to work on fishing boats. One way of addressing these issues would be to expedite ratification of C188 and formalize a set of labor and occupational protections that would reassure origin country governments that labor standards on board Thai fishing vessels meet international standards. With adequate protections in place for fishing workers, Thailand would be in an excellent position to persuade neighboring governments to allow their nationals to work in the fishing sector, thus addressing the current labour shortage.
 
We are ready to work with the Ministry of Labour, industry representatives, fishers and their representatives, and civil society organizations to ensure that the C188 ratification process and domestic legislation is as effective and as far-reaching as possible. We believe the ratification and full implementation of C188 is one of the most tangible measures available to reduce the likelihood of workers falling victim to human trafficking, forced labour, and exploitative working conditions. For this reason, we urge the Ministry of Labor to persevere in fulfilling our mutually shared goal of protecting workers’ rights in Thailand’s fishing industry.
 
The ratification of C188 would allow the Royal Thai Government to send a credible and powerful message to the international community that Thailand is firmly committed to eliminating human trafficking, forced labour and other forms of exploitation from its fishing industry. Adopting C188 would also give seafood buyers and retailers around the world greater confidence that Thai seafood is ethically sourced.
 
For this reason, the undersigned groups urge individuals, businesses, institutions, and governments around the world to call on the Royal Thai Government to demonstrate its leadership in protecting fishers as well as elevating working and living conditions on Thai vessels through the ratification and implementation of this pioneering convention.
 
Sincerely,
 
Anti-Slavery International
Business and Human Rights Resource Center
CENTRAL
Conservation International
Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)
Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
Human Rights Watch  Humanity United Action
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
FinnWatch
FishWise
Focus on the Global South Fortify Rights
Foundation for Education and Development (FED)
Freedom Fund
Freedom United
Green America
Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Labor Safe
MAP Foundation
Mekong Migration Network (MMN)
Migrant Working Group (MWG)
Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN)
Raks Thai Foundation
Slave Free Seas
Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre
Stop The Traffik Coalition
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Verité
 
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Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.

 

Mekong Migration Network Statement

22 November 2017

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.

MMN is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations (CSOs) working to protect and promote migrants’ rights in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Given the significant impact that ASEAN policies on the protection of migrant workers will have in the GMS, MMN has actively engaged in ASEAN policy dialogues wherever possible.

MMN recalls the optimism and excitement among CSOs at the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007. Although the scope of the Declaration was limited, it nonetheless conveyed the expectation that ASEAN was intent on protecting and promoting the rights of migrant workers. With a commitment to contribute constructively to the follow-up process, various migrants’ rights networks, including MMN, joined forces to formulate the “Civil Society Proposal: ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers”.[1] Our joint proposal was submitted to ASEAN in 2009 and was warmly welcomed by Dr. Donald Tambunan, the then head of the Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.[2]

Since then, in preparation for the formulation of an effective instrument, countless CSO and government meetings have been held, including the annual ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML).

The Consensus is a result of these decade-long efforts. On a positive note, the instrument recognises the contribution of migrants to both sending and receiving countries, and reaffirms the respect for and promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

While we are disappointed that the Consensus has practical limitations, since it is not legally binding and the clauses are subject to national laws, regulations and policies, we nonetheless hold out optimism in the positive spirit and moral principles expressed within the Consensus. We sincerely hope that Singapore, the next chair of ASEAN, will display progressive leadership in developing the follow-up action plan.

In particular, we urge ASEAN states to consider the following areas in developing its action plan:

  1. Mediation – While the responsibilities of receiving and sending countries are spelled out within the Consensus, greater clarity is required in terms of how respective countries will resolve situations where there is a contradiction or inconsistency in policies between sending and receiving countries. We urge ASEAN to develop an effective system of mediation whereby disputes and policy incoherence can be discussed and resolved in a constructive, non-confrontational and cooperative manner.
  2. Monitoring – While the responsibilities of ASEAN states are elaborated within the Consensus, no mention is made as to how they will work towards fulfilling their commitments. We urge ASEAN to establish effective monitoring mechanisms to oversee the progress made by member states on issues such as changes made to prevailing laws, regulations and policies to reflect the spirit of the Consensus. As implementation of the Consensus is subject to national laws, regulations and policies, there is an urgent need to develop a coherent approach to implementation to avoid ad hoc application. Furthermore, given the relatively weak negotiation position of sending countries, we urge ASEAN to pay special attention to the challenges faced by sending countries, while encouraging receiving states to facilitate efforts made by sending countries to protect the rights of their citizens overseas.
  3. Meaningful Dialogue with CSOs – In pursuance of the people-oriented community described in ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, we urge ASEAN to continue an informed and meaningful dialogue with CSOs, including trade unions and migrant-led associations, throughout the follow-up process, notably in relation to the formulation of its action plan and subsequent monitoring and reporting of its implementation.
  4. Inclusive Approach to Rights Protection – In the GMS, where countries share long land borders and where migration is characterised by its mixed nature, it is difficult to identify migrant workers “who become undocumented through no fault of their own”.  We urge ASEAN states to take the reality of migration in the region into consideration, avoid criminalising undocumented migrants, and be inclusive in its approach to applying rights protection, such as by recognising migrant workers’ right to a family life. Moreover, given notable absence of ASEAN policies on refugee protection, we urge ASEAN to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment and provide protection to the most vulnerable members of the migrant population who are in need of protection.
  5. Uphold the Principle of Non-discrimination – We welcome the fact that the Consensus undertakes to adhere to the principle of fair treatment with respect to gender and nationality. We urge ASEAN to take pro-active steps to ensure that this principle of non-discrimination is upheld broadly, including, but not limited to, at the time of recruitment, in workplaces, when accessing social services and when accessing justice systems. For example, we would urge Member States to pay special attention to the principles of fair treatment and non-discrimination in relation to meeting mandatory “health requirements” of receiving states. Such screening should be carried out with the sole purpose of protecting public health by preventing the spread of communicable diseases and not for the purpose of discriminating against certain populations, including, but not limited to, pregnant women and people living with HIV.

 

Finally, MMN wishes to reiterate the significant contribution made by migrant workers – both professional and low paid workers – in the region. While ASEAN is moving towards easing restrictions on the movement of professional workers in the region, migration policies for low paid workers, who are the majority of the work force in the region, remain restrictive. We would like to highlight the findings from the recent World Bank report, Migrating for Opportunities, which states that easing restrictions on labour migration in ASEAN can boost workers’ welfare and deepen regional economic integration.[3] We hope that ASEAN will take this finding into consideration when formulating migration policies and work towards easing restrictions on labour migration. After all, we hope that ASEAN is moving towards achieving the “caring and sharing” community to which all members of society, including migrant workers and their families, feel they belong.

 

Mekong Migration Network (MMN), launched in 2003, is a network of civil society organisations and research institutes promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers and their families in the Greater Mekong Subregion. MMN currently has over 40 member organisations, and carries out collaborative research, policy monitoring, advocacy and capacity building. For more information about MMN, visit: www.mekongmigration.org

For inquiries about this statement, please contact:

Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator

(Email reiko@mekongmigration.org or Tel +852 93692244)

Omsin Boonlert (Thai and English), MMN Research and Advocacy Officer

(Email plaii@mekongmigration.org or Tel +66(53)283259 or +66 869238313)

 

Download PDF version here.

 

 

[1] Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW), 2009. http://www.workersconnection.org/resources/Resources_72/book_tf-amw_feb2010.pdf

[2] Ibid, page 9.

[3]Mauro Testaverde, Harry Moroz, Claire H. Hollweg, and Achim Schmillen, Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia, World Bank, 2017, page 5. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28342/9781464811067.pdf?sequence=22&isAllowed=y

 

 

MMN Statement on International Migrants’ Day, 18 December 2015

Today, 18 December 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families  (ICRMW).  This is an apt opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution migrants make to both the societies they live in and the countries they have left behind. Over many years, millions of migrants have powered the social and economic development of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). In this ever more interconnected region, patterns of migration are becoming increasingly complex, with migrants today forming the backbone of national economies, across both formal and informal sectors. However, their work continues to be undervalued and characterised by low wages and unsafe working conditions that few locals would ever tolerate. Labour rights violations such as breaches of minimum wage legislation, forced over-time, denial of paid sick leave, maternity leave and holidays, and substandard occupational safety and health, remain widespread.

Despite an urgent need to systematically address these issues, there continues to be a striking lack of political will, both at the national and regional levels, to protect the rights of migrants. Migration policies are in contrast increasingly driven by the demands of the corporate sector and the need to securitise migration flows to safeguard national security. There is an increased trend for GMS countries to establish Special Economic Zones (SEZs), some of which are designated to keep migrants along the borders and hence leading to isolation of migrants from mainstream society. We are concerned that forcing migrants to live in social exclusion is contrary to the principle of living together and is only likely to exacerbate existing problems.

With the ASEAN Economic Community due to be established by the end of 2015, this year has seen high level regional discussions on trade, investment and the freer movement of skilled labour. In spite of this unique opportunity, the regional body has shown an apparent lack of political will or capacity to realise protection mechanisms for all migrant workers. The process began by the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007, appears to have stalled indefinitely and no framework instrument to implement the Declaration has been put in place. Moreover in a year that has seen large numbers of people in the region risking their lives out of desperation, ASEAN has failed to respond to this migration crisis, in accordance with its vision of creating a “sharing and caring” community.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ICRMW, we urge all national governments to sign and ratify this important convention. We also urge ASEAN to develop migration policies founded on the principle of protecting the rights found within this instrument. Migration policies based on economic utility at the expense of workers’ rights are neither sustainable nor compatible with international standards. Law and policies that respond to abusive practices found in the GMS are in urgent need and must take into an account the continuum of exploitation experienced.

PDF [487 KB]

The MMN statement was covered by the following news:

Mizzima: Mekong Migration Network (MMN) stament on International Migrant’s Day

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