Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers
Notes from Brief Dialogue
7th May 2008 – Grand Hyatt Erawan, Bangkok
Written by Phil Robertson, SEARCH
Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers,
Thai Civil Society and Trade Union Groups,
Dr Anish Kumar Roy, ASEAN Secretariat
On May 7, 2008, the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers, led by the Task Force convener Sinapan Samydorai, and accompanied by representatives of key Thai members of the Task Force, met with Dr. Anish Kumar Roy, the Director of the Bureau of Resources Development of the ASEAN Secretariat. The half-hour meeting took place at the Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM) and ASEAN Labor Ministers Meeting (ALMM).
At the meeting, the Task Force presented its Statement to the ALMM which calls for the immediate convening of the ASEAN Committee to Implement the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACI). The Task Force Statement also outlines the topics under consideration by the Task Force as it develops ASEAN civil society's draft of the Framework Instrument to devise practical policies and arrangements to implement the ASEAN Declaration to Protection and Promote the Rights of Migrant Workers. Samydorai gave a run down of the activities of the Task Force over the past year, which was appreciated by Dr Roy.
In response to the Task Force presentation and statement, Dr. Roy stated that there was agreement among the ASEAN officials that it is important to convene the ACI as soon as possible. While the ACI focal points are being determined, the ASEAN senior labor officials shall serve as the contact points for issues related to the ASEAN Declaration. He added while the national focal points were still being finalized, there was also an agreement that the ACI should be operationalized and its first meeting held prior to the ASEAN Leaders meeting in December 2008. Dr. Roy noted that discussion was held about the development of an Instrument for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, as called for in the ASEAN Declaration. However, it was decided that first the ACI must develop a work plan for its efforts before a timeline can be set for developing the framework instrument.
Dr. Roy also indicated that ASEAN has decided to make the Forum on Migrant Workers (which first meet in Manila, Philippines, last month with support from the ILO) a regular forum, which will involve both government and civil society representatives, and feed inputs into the ACI.
Sukarnta Soopaita, the President of the Rangsit Union Area Group and the representative of the Thai labour movement in the meeting, raised a number of key points on the right of migrants to move across borders, to receive services (such as education and access to health), and the right of migrant workers to organize their own unions, and collectively bargain. She also presented copies of the final statement of the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Worker national consultation in Thailand, held on July 31, 2007.
In response, Dr. Roy stated that there had to be recognition of some of the sensitivities within ASEAN on these issues – especially on unrestricted migration, which can cause competition with local workers and impact on local development. Noting that he is originally from Sabah, he added that in some cases, migrant workers are living in receiving countries for two or three generations and even asserting citizenship claims and this is controversial for some ASEAN nations. Dr. Roy states that ASEAN will likely focus first on skilled workers, through systems of mutual skills recognition – and that meanwhile, ASEAN nations would likely continue to use bilateral agreements to handle the management of unskilled workers.
Dr. Roy explained that Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan was clear on his policy from day one that it is critical that ASEAN be taken to the people of ASEAN and that they must reach to all stakeholders. In the first 5 months of his tenure as Secretary-General, there has been a huge increase in stakeholder engagement with ASEAN, and this is a good trend. He stated that he thought the Task Force was operating within this space provided by this ASEAN policy, and this is positive.
In response to a question about the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint, Dr Roy noted that this will include a section on “social justice and rights” among its various “broad action lines” – and noted that the ASEAN Declaration on Migrants will be operationalized through this Blueprint.
Finally, in response to concerns about human rights and Burma raised by Chalida Tajaroensuk of People Empowerment, Dr. Roy noted that different countries in ASEAN have different understanding of human rights, and that these issues had to be approached step by step.
Dr.Anish Kumar Roy, Director of the ASEAN Bureau of Resources Development, is the responsible ASEAN Secretariat official for the SLOM and ALMM.