Category Archives: Labour standards for migrant workers

ASEAN leaders sign commitment protecting migrant workers

The consensus is a followup document to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers adopted in January 2007 in Cebu.

PROTECTING MIGRANTS. Southeast Asian leaders do the trademark ASEAN handshake after signing the ‘ASEAN Consensus on the Protection of Migrant Workers’. Screenshot by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – After a decade, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has finally made progress in ensuring the protection of migrant workers.

Southeast Asian leaders closed their 31st ASEAN Summit, which coincides with the golden anniversary of the community, by signing the “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” on Tuesday, November 14.

President Rodrigo Duterte, representing the Philippines as ASEAN chair, presented the signed document to ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

This consensus is a followup document to the “ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” adopted in January 2007 in Cebu.

It includes the following provisions:

  • Fair treatment of migrant workers with respect to gender and nationality
  • Visitation rights by family members
  • Prohibition against confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees
  • Protection against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Regulation of recruiters for better protection of workers
  • Right to fair and appropriate remuneration benefits and their right to join trade unions and association

It also serves as a commitment by ASEAN member-states to formulate a plan of action to implement the rights specified. This plan will be made during next year’s meetings under the chairmanship of Singapore.

The creation of the consensus took more than 10 years because parties could not agree on the legal nature of the document, the protection of undocumented workers and the coverage of migrant workers’ families.

Philippines and Indonesia, both source countries, wanted a legally-binding framework. Singapore and Malaysia only wanted the document to be a guide to avoid the increase in the number of undocumented migrants. Both countries are migration hubs for workers.

Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said they opted not to spell out whether or not the document is legally-binding since signatories are already aware of their commitments.

Silence on undocumented workers

Despite being a landmark gain, the consensus was still silent on the issue of undocumented workers. There are around 10 million migrant workers in the region, many of whom are staying in foreign countries without proper papers. Philippine statistics, meanwhile, show that there are around 212,435 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Southeast Asia.

Left-leaning OFW group Migrante said these OFWs are those whose work permits were not renewed or who were forced to leave their employers due to abuse and exploitation.

Migrante also urged ASEAN to create a body that will oversee violations and concerns of the migrant workers, whether as a consultative body or a tribunal.

“Because there is a lack of support mechanisms in both sending and receiving countries, the tendency is always to deport or repatriate victims of abuse and exploitation resulting in the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators,” said the labor organization.

Aside from this commitment, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, the people-centered pillar of the association, also adopted the:

  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Ending All Forms of Malnutrition
  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Anti-Microbial Resistance
  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Disaster Health Management
  • ASEAN Declaration on the Gender-Responsive Implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and Sustainable Development Goals
  • ASEAN Declaration on Culture of Prevention for a Peaceful, Inclusive, Resilient, Healthy and Harmonious Society
  • ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change to the UNFCCC COP-23
  • Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security in ASEAN

By: Patty Pasion,

Published on: 14 November 2017

Asean urged to ease rules on workers

Migrants good for growth, report says

The World Bank is urging Asean member countries to ease labour restrictions so migrant workers can earn money overseas to boost welfare and deepen economic integration.

Migration is growing at a faster rate in Asean than within any other region globally, according to one of the bank’s cartoon-filled reports released Monday entitled Migrating to Opportunity.

Between 1995 and 2015, 6.5 million migrants workers in the Asean bloc left their homeland to find better opportunities in neighbouring countries, the report showed.

People from Myanmar, Lao and Cambodia were most likely to head to Thailand while Malaysians and Indonesians tended to venture to Singapore, it said.

Their total remittances in 2015 stood at US$62 billion, accounting for 3% of the value of GDP in Cambodia, 5% in Myanmar or 10% in the Philippines.

Yet the World Bank report states the region could have reaped more benefits if hurdles had been cleared including the high cost of labor mobility, restrictions on workers, and welfare-related problems.

“With the right policy choices, sending countries can reap the economic benefits of out-immigration while protecting their citizens who choose to migrate for work,” said Sudhir Shetty, the World Bank’s chief economist for the East Asia and Pacific Region.

“In receiving countries, foreign workers can fill labour shortages and promote sustainable economic growth if migration policies are aligned with their economic needs,” he added.

“Inappropriate policies and ineffective institutions mean that the region is missing opportunities to gain fully from migration.”

Critics say restrictions lead to costly and lengthy recruitment processes.

“We are talking about more than 10 steps for migrant workers to deal with. We are talking about redundancies of agencies and processes,” said Mauro Testaverde, a World Bank economist and lead author of the report.

“No matter where workers wish to migrate to in Asean, they will face mobility costs several times the annual wage,” he said.

“Improvements in the migration process can ease these costs for prospective migrants and help countries respond better to their labour market needs,” he added.

By reducing the cost of mobility, the report found, welfare could rise 14% for highly skilled workers and 29% overall.

The report suggested some policy changes including more oversight of recruitment agencies and a streamlining of registration processes.

Countries can also learn from one another, for example taking a cue from the Philippines, which has good social support and network systems that help migrant Philippine workers adjust and get better protection when working overseas.

The bilateral agreement between Malaysia and Bangladesh to reduce the cost of mobility is another good example of how illegal migration can be curbed because migrant workers from these countries have no need to use illegal job recruitment agents.

The report suggested Indonesia could streamline its official agencies while Vietnam could promote a better migrant worker policy

Singapore could do more to enhance welfare and help migrant workers assimilate, it said, adding Thailand should formalise undocumented workers and make the entry process cheaper.

Thailand should also improve welfare and protection for migrant workers, the report said.

It also urged governments to change their attitude toward migrant workers.

Mr Shetty said such restrictive policies result from fears that migrant workers steal jobs from locals. In contrast, the report said Thailand’s GDP would drop 0.75% without them.


By: Anchalee Kongrut, Bangkok Post

Published on: 10 October 2017


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

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

The program was broadcast live on 26 April 2017


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

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


New reformist role for Thai Union

Production of many brands of canned tuna and other seafood make Thai Union the world’s largest seller. (Photo Phuket News)

Thai Union Group, the world’s largest canned tuna company, is considering changes to its supply chains that could transform the seafood industry forever. Having been a target of investigation over coerced labour in its supply chains, the company is yet to take the significant steps needed to ensure its suppliers refrain from human rights abuses and destruction of the ocean.

Thai Union can show its commitment to leading by immediately addressing transshipment at sea — a shifty practice that is often associated with illegal fishing and human rights abuse.

It has been almost two years since the European Union (EU) gave Thailand a “yellow card” for its failure to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing in the country’s supply chains of seafood that eventually end up as exports to Europe. That warning continues today, as the Thai government has not taken decisive actions needed to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing or address the concerns on compliance with international rules on seafood supply.

Thai Union should not wait for the government to step up but should commit to transformative changes. One way for the company to show its leadership is to end transshipment at sea in its supply chains. In doing so, Thai Union can send a message to both the Thai government and the seafood industry as a whole that any practices associated with human rights abuses and illegal fishing should not and must not be tolerated.

Global Fishing Watch, an non-profit organisation that tracks commercial fishing activities worldwide, recently released a groundbreaking report on transshipment worldwide, observing 90% of the world’s reefer fleets over a four year time frame. The report finds 86,490 instances of potential transshipment. Over 40% of the transshipment incidents happened on the high seas, away from regulations and inspections, and appeared to be associated with patterns of IUU fishing.

Companies that are complicit in abuses of workers in their supply chains also often engage in destructive or illegal fishing, and have little regard for fishery management regulations.

As a direct result of overfishing, many coastal stocks are depleted and vessels must travel further into the high seas to fish. Rather than losing precious fishing time and incurring increased costs of returning to port, the industry increasingly relies on transshipment at sea — where smaller boats refuel, restock, and transfer catch onto larger cargo vessels. This practice turns fishing boats into floating prisons, and enables vessels to hide illegally-caught fish and mistreat crew members. Many trafficked and abused workers are forced to remain at sea with no means of escape for months or even years.

Recently, there have been attempts to remove the worst offenders from the water, which would have a positive effect on the ocean and people. In February 2017, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries (DoF) announced “the strengthening of transshipment control measures”. The announcement requires all Thai distant water fishing vessels to return back to port within 90 days and to ensure that there is no transshipment at sea involved while returning from the Indian ocean.

Thai Union can make a difference. By taking specific and practical steps to reform its operations, the company can be a driving force in continuing the modernisation of the fisheries sector in Thailand and reforming the seafood industry at large.

According to Greenpeace’s 2016 Southeast Asia canned tuna ranking, all tuna brands, including Thai Union, are still falling short on both sustainability and social responsibility issues.

If Thai Union continues to rely on transshipment at sea to operate, then it is reasonable to be concerned about all of its supply chains. Tuna can be commingled from several different sources with relative ease, obfuscating the supply chain and erasing the detection of tuna caught in an illegal or unethical manner.

Recently Mars and Nestle committed to making changes to help ensure their pet food supply chains operate in a manner that does not harm our oceans and does not abuse workers. The companies will address transshipment at sea throughout their pet food supply chains, which puts pressure on Thai Union, a supplier for both companies, to do the same thing.

If Thai Union commits to end at-sea transshipment in its supply chains until the associated problems are addressed, it can help lead the change for the entire industry.

Greenpeace believes a moratorium on transshipment at sea is needed until new standards are agreed upon by the industry and regulators and are demonstrably met using third-party auditors.

It is time for accountability in the global seafood industry, and that can begin with Thai Union.


By: Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia for Bangkok Post

Published on: 2 May 2017


Migrant Rights Activist: Booming Thai Border Town ‘Built on Burmese Sweat’

MAE SOT, Thailand — Mae Sot, a border town in western Thailand, has changed starkly in the past few years. Once quiet, the town now has shopping malls, hotels, an airport, a new bridge, and construction projects widening its main road.

The graft of Burmese labor workers contributes greatly to the town’s development. U Moe Joe, a longtime Burmese migrant rights activist and the chairman of Mae Sot-based Joint Action Committee for Burma Affairs (JACBA), has been supporting Burmese workers in the town for 14 years.

Senior reporter Saw Yan Naing interviews U Moe Joe about his views on the growth of Mae Sot and its consequences for migrant workers.

How do you see the expansion of Mae Sot?

There are huge expansion projects in Mae Sot, including an airport, shopping malls, supermarkets, government offices, buildings, and a hospital. These all benefit the Thai people, but many Burmese migrant workers who work in construction don’t receive proper wages.

Many workers on Robinson [a shopping mall named for its primary department store] still haven’t received their wages and we heard that migrants who helped construct the airport didn’t get full wages. The workers were supposed to be paid 300 Thai baht (US$8.5) a day but some received 160-250 baht ($4.5-7.2). There’s still exploitation—it’s one of the results of expansion in Mae Sot, but Burmese migrant workers should also benefit. Every construction project has problems paying the migrant workers.

Have you noticed many Burmese migrant workers returning home now that their country is opening?

Some Burmese workers are going back to live in Burma now the NLD [National League for Democracy] has come to power, but we don’t know the official figure. Some permanently move back and others go back and forth. Garment factory workers, who do well back in Burma, often go back but it doesn’t work out so well for those in construction and agriculture. They come to Thailand after they don’t find work in Burma.

Numbers of Burmese people still come to Thailand for work but we don’t have the statistics because many of them cross into Thailand illegally. Migrant workers visiting their homes have brought back friends in the past but we don’t see that now. The number of newcomers is decreasing.

What about the abuse and exploitation of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot compared to the past? 

Employers used to solve their problems with employees in a criminal way and the migrant workers always lost, but now the Thai government is working on upgrading standards, especially for child workers and forced laborers.

The government fines employers but in no case has the employer been jailed. It’s common for employees to be jailed, so there are many things that need improving. Guilty employers should also been jailed yet, for now, they pay the fine and are free.

Why do Burmese people still go to work in Thailand? 

There are still problems with the wages in Burma, although it’s improving under the new civilian government compared to the previous regime. Workers in Burma do not get paid the same rate as those in Thailand, which is why they still come.

When did Mae Sot begin to expand? 

Mae Sot is a town in Tak Province where all the government offices are based. It has a lot of factories—180 registered factories by our estimate. So migrant workers go to Mae Sot. Within the last five years, government offices, departments, privately owned buildings and hotels have sprung up. All the construction on those buildings was built with the labor of Burmese migrant workers. They work in the heat. They built them with their sweat.

By:  Saw Yan Nain, Irrawaddy News

Published on: 1 May 2017

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