Category Archives: Other Activities

MMN Holds the Second Policy Dialogue on Roles of Countries of Origin to Launch “Social Protection Across Borders”

From 16-17 September, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised the second Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More than 40 representatives from governments, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), recruitment agencies’ associations from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, the Embassies of the Republic of the Philippines and Japan in Phnom Penh and intergovernmental organisations gathered to hear research findings from the MMN’s most recent publication and discuss how countries of origin can expand their role in enhancing migrants’ access to social protection across borders. The Policy Dialogue took place in tandem with a Labour Ministerial Conference held on 17 September in Siem Reap between governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (CLMTV) aimed at creating a joint framework on the portability of social security for migrant workers in CLMTV.

Between 2018 and 2019, the MMN conducted a research project to examine current efforts in countries of origin, namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, to facilitate migrant workers’ access to social protection throughout the migration cycle and highlight migrants’ experiences in accessing these mechanisms. The resulting study, entitled, “Social Protection Across Borders: Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants’ Rights”, is based on case studies of migrant workers currently in Thailand, migrant returnees in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam and interviews with government officials, CSOs and recruitment agencies’ associations. The report highlights recurring issues faced by migrant workers across the three countries in accessing social protection schemes in destination countries and at home.

In her opening remarks, Her Excellency Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Interior, Royal Kingdom of Cambodia, noted the importance of multilateral collaboration between countries of origin to address common issues and concerns faced by migrant workers in the region. Ms Yin Yin Ohn, Deputy Director-General, Social Security Board, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, Myanmar, also believed that enhanced international cooperation is necessary as migration is “multi-dimensioned, complex and involves cross-border and cross-cutting issues.” Regarding migrant workers’ access to social protection, she reported that the Myanmar government is currently negotiating with the governments of Thailand and Malaysia to enable the portability of social security for migrant workers. 

In the following seven panels of the Policy Dialogue, the MMN presented its key findings along with recommendations for governments and recruitment agencies of countries of origin to enhance migrant workers’ access to social protection. In the discussion, participants also addressed a number of topics, including the current initiatives by different stakeholders to disseminate information relating to social protection schemes of destination countries, types of support available to migrant workers by embassies and diplomatic missions, the roles and responsibilities of recruitment agencies in assisting migrant workers’ access to social protection and the current progress regarding the establishment of mechanisms to support portable social security between destination countries and countries of origin. 

At the end of each day, participants of the Policy Dialogue broke into groups consisting of a cross-section of representatives from governments, CSOs and recruitment agencies’ associations to discuss existing gaps in policies and practices to support access to social protection, specifically under the themes of “migration mechanisms”, “information dissemination”, “overseas assistance”, “roles and responsibilities of recruitment agencies”, “international cooperation”, “assistance upon return” and “social security in countries of origin”. Based on the results of the discussion, participants collectively developed a set of recommendations to address identified gaps and improve access to social protection. Key recommendations for governments of countries of origin include:

  • Ensuring information relevant to migrant workers’ benefits and rights is available, understandable and accessible; 
  • Enhancing cooperation between Labour Attachés/Counsellors and different stakeholders, such as CSOs, in order to strengthen migrant workers’ access to social protection; 
  • Effectively monitoring recruitment agencies to make sure they comply with legal standards; and 
  • Encouraging recruitment agencies to adopt and uphold industry Codes of Conduct. 

In the long term, countries of origin should ensure uninterrupted and transferrable social protection regardless of migrants’ location of work; encourage the formation of a subcommittee under the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers to establish a framework for the portability of social protection; develop inclusive social protection schemes that migrants can voluntarily participate in and access when abroad; and establish flexible money transfer systems enabling migrants to contribute to social protection schemes through digital systems. Countries of origin should also take steps towards establishing a welfare fund for migrants in their respective countries at the appropriate time.

Over the course of the two-day Policy Dialogue, participants recognised the need for continued cross-country and multistakeholder collaboration to further enhance migrants’ access to social protection and better safeguard their rights. The MMN thanks all participants for their contributions to an engaging discussion.

Participants of the Second Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin

Her Excellency Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Interior, Royal Kingdom of Cambodia, delivers a keynote speech at the Policy Dialogue

Ms Yin Yin Ohn, Deputy Director-General, Social Security Board, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, Myanmar, delivers a keynote speech at the Policy Dialogue

A panel on information dissemination at the Policy Dialogue

A panel on international cooperation at the Policy Dialogue

A small group discussion at the Policy Dialogue

A participant presents on some of the gaps in existing policies and practices, along with recommendations, to disseminate information to migrant workers

    

MMN Releases Social Protection Across Borders: Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants’ Rights

As a network of migrant support organisations, grassroots movements, and research institutes from across the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) works to promote and protect the rights of migrant workers and their families. The collaborative research presented in this publication comes at a time when formal social protection schemes are taking shape across the GMS, and migrant workers from the region are travelling, in ever greater numbers, to countries where social protection programmes are well established. Access to social protection for this growing cross-border workforce requires an urgent policy response, as migrant workers risk being excluded or denied access to benefits and left insufficiently protected in terms of their life cycle needs.

The present research examines the role of GMS countries of origin in improving accesses to social protection programmes both at home and overseas. Focusing specifically on Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, it scrutinises the ways in which governments and other stakeholders from these countries of origin safeguard the social protection rights of their nationals, both when migrating abroad and upon return. The country-specific chapters that form the bulk of this study provides detailed analysis of the various law and policy frameworks currently in place, highlights policy gaps, and illustrates how these play out in real life through case studies of workers who have migrated to Thailand and Japan. In examining migrants’ access to social protection at home and abroad, a rigorous research methodology was employed, including desk research, key informant interviews, multi-stakeholder workshops and the collection of migrant case studies.

Published in September 2019. PDF is available here.

 

MMN holds Multi-Stakeholder Meeting on Labour Migration from Vietnam to Japan

On 24 July 2019, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised the Consultation Meeting on Labour Migration from Vietnam to Japan in Hanoi, Vietnam. The consultation provided a platform for representatives of different stakeholders to exchange information about recruitment procedures from Vietnam to Japan and jointly explore interventions and strategies to improve protections provided to migrant workers. The workshop was organised in anticipation of increased labour migration from Vietnam to Japan as Japan seeks to plug gaps in its rapidly shrinking labour force. Under the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), Vietnam is Japan’s largest source of migrant workers, and numbers are expected to increase following the Japanese government’s announcement that it intends to welcome an additional 345,000 migrant workers within five years. To facilitate this policy change, Japan amended its strict immigration laws and added a new “Specified Skilled Worker” (SSW) visa category. In July 2019, Japan signed a bilateral Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with Vietnam to facilitate the implementation of the new scheme. 

Given these developments, the MMN gathered a diverse group of over 50 participants to exchange views, including representatives of the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam, the Department of Overseas Labour under the Ministry of Labour-Invalids and Social Affairs in Vietnam, the Vietnam Association of Manpower and Supply VAMAS, intergovernmental organisations, civil society organisations and private recruitment agencies.

The consultation began with a plenary entitled, “The Recruitment and Deployment of Vietnamese Workers to Japan: Policies, Trends and Gaps.” In his presentation, Mr Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, Vice President of VAMAS, urged the governments of Japan and Vietnam to quickly design guidelines for the implementation of the “Specified Skilled Workers” visa category, especially on specifying responsibilities of recruitment agencies and details on the collection of recruitment fees. Having these guidelines could help prevent intermediaries from engaging in unscrupulous and illegal recruitment activities, such as charging prospective workers exorbitant fees. Mr Nguyen also shared about the VAMAS’s industry Code of Conduct (CoC), which provides guidelines on good recruitment practices, as well as a ranking system to rate recruitment agencies’ compliance with the code. So far, approximately 120 recruitment agencies have signed the CoC. 

In the following presentation, Ms Nguyen Thi Mai Thuy, the National Programme Coordinator of the Labour Migration TRIANGLE in ASEAN Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office in Hanoi, highlighted a number of issues Vietnamese migrant workers face during their migration to Japan, including high recruitment fees. While recruitment agencies in Vietnam can charge no more than 3600 USD by law, there have been cases where prospective workers paid as much as 7000 to 10,000 USD. High recruitment fees can be one reason why migrant workers incur huge debt before they migrate. In 2019, the ILO published the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment and Definition of Recruitment Fees and Related Cost, which provides a comprehensive definition of recruitment fees. According to the document, no recruitment fees or related costs should be borne by workers. The ILO has also raised issues related to high recruitment fees to the Vietnamese government.

In the second plenary entitled, “The Employment of Migrant Workers to Japan: Policies, Trends and Gaps”, Mr Mikio Hayashi, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan in Vietnam, presented on the trends of labour migration from Vietnam to Japan and details of the Memorandum of Cooperation on Specified Skilled Workers signed between Japan and Vietnam. Mr Hayashi also highlighted activities of the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam in supporting migrant workers, such as cooperating with the Vietnamese government to clamp down on intermediaries that have engaged in illegal and unscrupulous behaviours and organising seminars in different parts of Vietnam to disseminate information on migration under the TITP and the Economic Partnership Agreement between Vietnam and Japan.

Associate Professor Asato Wako from Kyoto University noted that while the Japanese government has adopted a more rights-based approach in developing the “Specified Skilled Workers” migration pathway, certain well-intentioned components of the scheme will be difficult to implement. For example, the SSW scheme enables employers in Japan to directly hire migrant workers in order to prevent illegal recruitment activities. However, in reality, prospective migrant workers in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia will still have to go through recruitment agencies for the foreseeable future due to a lack of job-matching services for migrant workers, as well as due to requirements of countries of origin. Professor Asato also stressed that the use of the term “runaways” to describe migrant workers who have left their jobs without terminating their contracts is not appropriate, as it implies wrongdoing on the part of migrants. Migrant workers sometimes leave their jobs in search of better employment opportunities if they have a heavy financial burden, which is often a result of high recruitment fees. On average, migrant workers who leave their jobs under the TITP paid 5000 USD as recruitment fees before departure, exceeding the legal cap in Vietnam. 

After the plenaries, participants explored the opportunities and challenges involved in ethical recruitment, human resource development and achieving decent work. Based on the results of the discussion, participants collectively came up with several recommendations to improve the protection of migrant workers throughout their migration cycle. These recommendations include improving the quality of pre-departure training provided to migrant workers, increasing cooperation between stakeholders in Japan and Vietnam, and clarifying the roles of government agencies, recruitment agencies and accepting organisations in Japan in efforts to protect migrant workers’ rights. 

Participants at the Consultation Meeting

Ms Nguyen Thi Mai Thuy, the National Programme Coordinator of the Labour Migration TRIANGLE in ASEAN Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office in Hanoi

Mr Mikio Hayashi, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan in Vietnam

Mr Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, Vice President of VAMAS

Associate Professor Asato Wako from Kyoto University

Discussion at the Consultation Meeting

 

MMN holds Workshop on Labour Migration from Mekong Countries to Japan in Tokyo, Japan

On July 8, 2019, the Mekong Migration Network held a multi-stakeholder workshop on Labour Migration from Mekong Countries to Japan in Tokyo, Japan. The workshop was organised 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), a significant proportion of migrant workers in Japan originate from Vietnam (72,637), Myanmar (3,692), and Cambodia (3,328). 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 amended its strict immigration laws and added a new “Specified Skilled Worker” (SSW) visa category. Japan also signed a bilateral Memoranda of Cooperation (MoC) with Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar to facilitate the implementation of the new scheme.

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. 

Professor Wako Asato from Kyoto University began with a presentation on the recent trends of migration under the TITP and trajectories under the SSW visa scheme. He 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, especially with regards to the collection of recruitment fees. 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.

Mr Ippei Torii from the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan gave an overview of the history of Japan’s migration policies and highlighted a number of issues migrant workers face in Japan, including labour rights violation, forced repatriation and physical violence. In particular, certain aspects of the TITP, such as the lack of freedom for migrant workers to change jobs, often facilitate a power imbalance between employers and workers and create environments conducive to abuse and exploitation. Regarding cases where migrant workers “run away” from their employers under the TITP, Mr Torii suggested that the term “runaways” is not appropriate, as it implies wrongdoing on the part of migrants. When migrants “run away,” they are in essence changing jobs–a right that all Japanese citizens, but not TITP workers, enjoy.

Professor Chiaki Osaki from the Japan Association of Certified Care Workers discussed her observations of pre-departure and post-arrival training provided to care workers in countries of origin and Japan respectively. She highlighted that many migrant workers are unable to access support hotlines or contact their family members due to difficulties for foreigners to purchase a phone with a Japanese number in Japan. In the following presentation, Mr Kazuomi Aoyagi from the Alliance of Associations for Diversity and Inclusion Acceleration in Japan spoke about the history of migration from the Philippines and the Filipino government’s current policies on outbound migration. According to him, the Philippines has strict regulations over the practices of recruitment agencies. In particular, recruitment agencies that are sending workers to Japan are prohibited from collecting any placement fees from migrants.

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, 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 (CoC). In Vietnam, Mr Luon​g Trao Nguyen from the Vietnam Association of Manpower and Supply (VAMAS) shared that the 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. Ms Aye Aye Nyunt from the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation also explained that overseas employment agencies in Myanmar are encouraged to regularly check on migrant workers and are required to submit a report every three months to the Myanmar government. In Cambodia, Mr Pin Vireak from the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA) stated that a new CoC and an accompanying ranking system similar to that of VAMAS will soon come into effect.

The workshop ended with civil society organisations from Myanmar and Cambodia sharing about the common challenges of migrant workers in their respective countries. Ms Thet Thet Aung from the Future Light Centre shared that prospective migrant workers in Myanmar lack comprehensive information about private recruitment agencies, which makes them vulnerable to the exploitation of unscrupulous intermediaries. Upon return, a lack of job opportunities at home, combined with an inability to apply skills acquired in Japan, means that a number of migrant returnees have no choice but to re-migrate. In Cambodia, Mr Sokchar Mom from the Legal Support for Children and Women highlighted the lack of a standard recruitment fee in Cambodia as a major issue that has enabled some unscrupulous intermediaries to charge exorbitant fees. In his experience, a number of prospective migrants have been forced to incur debt to migrate. Moving forward, he urged the Japanese and Cambodian governments to collectively tackle the issue of high recruitment fees.

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.

Participants of the Workshop

Associate Professor Asato Wako from the Kyoto University

Mr Ippei Torii from the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan

Professor Chiaki Osaki from the Japan Association of Certified Care Workers

Mr Luon​g Trao Nguyen from the Vietnam Association of Manpower and Supply (VAMAS)

Ms Aye Aye Nyunt from the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation

Mr Pin Vireak from the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA)

Mr Kazuomi Aoyagi from the Alliance of Associations for Diversity and Inclusion Acceleration in Japan

Ms Thet Thet Aung from the Future Light Centre (Myanmar)

Mr Sokchar Mom from the Legal Support for Children and Women (Cambodia)

MMN Conducts Country Visit in Tokyo, Japan

Between 6-9 July, 2019, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) conducted a series of field visits in Tokyo, Japan, to better understand Japanese policy on migrant workers, the efforts of civil society organisations and labour unions in providing support to populations from the Greater Mekong Subregion and migrant workers’ working and living conditions in Japan. Nine participants took part in the visit, including representatives of the Legal Support of Children and Women, Cambodia, the Future Light Centre, Myanmar, the Center for Development and Integration, Vietnam, and the MMN Secretariat, as well as an academic expert on labour migration.

The visits on 6 July began with a meeting with a resource person from the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan, who provided an overview of the reforms of the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP) in 2017 and the recently created “Specified Skilled Workers” (SSW) visa scheme that would allow migrant workers to enter Japan through an alternative migration pathway. He explained that the SSW visa scheme, which came into force in April 2019, has been quickly implemented and therefore would require further refinement in the future. He also discussed how certain aspects of the SSW scheme, such as the ability for migrant workers to change employers in the same sector, can pose higher risks for companies hiring migrants.

In the ensuing session, the MMN spoke with members of the Vietnam Mutual Aid Association in Japan (VMAA) to learn more about working conditions of migrant workers from Vietnam. In the VMAA’s experience, most labour disputes between migrant workers from Vietnam and employers in Japan were rooted in language barriers and cultural differences. The VMAA currently runs a 24-hour hotline for migrant workers from Vietnam, establishes regular contact with migrant workers and will soon distribute a 300-page guidebook in Vietnamese to prepare migrant workers for life in Japan.

The day ended with a meeting with Mr Hongmyong Kim, who gave an overview of the history of migration to Japan and a demographic breakdown of migrant workers in areas within Tokyo. He stressed that Japanese language education for migrant workers is key to their social integration and is in the process of starting a community language school.

On 7 July, the MMN met with a representative of the Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizen in Japan (FWUBC). He discussed a number of common issues that migrants from Myanmar face in Japan, such as employers who withhold salary from migrant workers as well as incidents of sexual harassment. When encountering abuse and exploitation, migrant workers are often unable to contact support hotlines due to the complicated procedures for foreigners to purchase a phone with a Japanese number. The FWUBC is requesting Japanese authorities to make it a requirement for employers to provide migrant workers with Japanese numbers.

Following the discussion, the MMN paid a home visit to four migrant workers from Cambodia in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. The four had been in Japan for more than four months and were currently working in the construction industry. All of them expressed hopes that they could utilise skills acquired in Japan after they returned to Cambodia. However, they highlighted difficulties with obtaining a Japanese number and their lack of interaction with Japanese people outside of work.

On 9 July, the MMN met with representatives of the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), who gave an overview of the TITP and the JITCO’s role in facilitating the implementation of the programme. The JITCO expressed hopes that countries of origin could better make use of the TITP by identifying industries that match the need of their economies and sending workers to these industries in Japan for skill development. Regarding the collection of recruitment fees in countries of origin, one representative of the JITCO pointed out that Japan and countries of origin have different ratification statuses of the International Labour Organization Convention 181 on Private Employment Agencies. Such a difference has led to varying standards in the collection of recruitment fees across countries of origin. 

The MMN concluded the country visit by hosting a roundtable discussion with representatives from the Solidarity with Migrants in Japan and the International Caregiver Talent Education Association, as well as academic experts on labour migration. During the meeting, MMN’s project partners from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam and representatives from the two Japanese groups shared about their work with migrant workers in their respective countries. One issue highlighted during the discussion was that Japanese employers are often unaware of the high recruitment fees migrant workers are required to pay before migrating to Japan. All participants agreed that continued collaboration and joint information monitoring between organisations in Japan and countries of origin are important for the protection of migrant workers’ rights.

 

Meeting with resource person from the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan

Meeting with the Vietnam Mutual Aid Association in Japan (VMAA)

Meeting with Mr Hongmyong Kim

Meeting with the Federation of Workers’ Union of the Burmese Citizen in Japan (FWUBC)

Meeting with Cambodian migrant workers in Kanagawa Prefecture

Meeting with the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO)

Roundtable discussion with representatives from the Solidarity with Migrants in Japan and the International Caregiver Talent Education Association, as well as academic experts on labour migration

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