ASEAN CSOs - ASETUC united response to the challenges confronting migrant workers

21 Apr 2007   |  Organizations   |  Trade Unions  

CSO-Trade Union Consultation on the 28 March 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Labor migration is a growing phenomenon worldwide and in the Asia Pacific region. In Asia, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 50 million documented migrant workers; undocumented migrant workers can easily double this figure. For years, trade unions had more or less left the organizing of migrant workers to NGOs. But in recent years, trade unions have come to realize that, since unions were organized to protect ALL workers, they have the responsibility of promoting the rights and welfare of migrant workers.

This realization has spurred UNI Apro to undertake activities related to migrant workers. One of its significant initiatives is the cross-border union cooperation between the UNI Malaysian Liaison Council and the ASPEK-Indonesia for the protection of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia. Under the agreement, UNI-MLC has set up help desks for Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and has since expanded their services to assist migrant workers from other Asian countries.

In addition, the UNI Apro actively involved itself with migrant worker issues by forging cooperation with NGOs working with migrant workers and by joining other civil society organizations in engaging the ASEAN to promote the human and labor rights of migrant workers in ASEAN.

The UNI Apro is a member of the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers which is comprised of trade unions, human rights and migrant rights NGOs, and migrant workers associations. The Task Force seeks to develop a rights-based framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers in line with ASEAN’s Vientianne Action Plan.

UNI Apro is please to be able to join SEARCH Canada in supporting the ASETUC and the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers to convene a NGO-Trade Union Consultation Workshop on the 28 March 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to review the ASEAN Framework for the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers. More than forty (40) delegates from twenty-four (24) NGOs and trade unions from eight ASEAN countries (Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) attended the consultation-workshop along with representatives from the Task Force, ASETUC, UNI Apro, ILO Jakarta Office, SEARCH (Canada), UNCHR Malaysia Office, and the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia.

The Consultation-Workshop discussed two major concerns: the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Framework for Cooperation between ASEAN NGOs/TUs in the Quest for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

The first session on the ASEAN Declaration was moderated by the Philippine Labour Attaché in Malaysia, Mr. Josephus Jimenez. Ms. Lotte Kejser, CTA for the ILO Migrant Workers Project in Southeast Asia briefed the participants on global and Asian labor migration trends and the migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. She presented relevant international instruments pertaining to migrant workers including key ILO Conventions and Human Rights Conventions.

Mr. Sinapan Samydorai, Convenor of the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers, briefed the participants on the ASEAN Declaration for the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers. This Declaration, though non-binding, is considered an important first step in promoting the human and labour rights of migrant workers. He also briefed the participants regarding the draft ASEAN Framework for the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Migrant Forum Asia and Sis. Lilis Tati Yuningsih, President of the Women’s Committee of ASPEK-Indonesia also presented their current efforts for migrant workers.

The second session on the Framework for Cooperation between ASEAN NGOs and TUs was moderated by Bro. Christopher Ng, UNI Apro Regional Secretary. He stated that the UNI Apro is fully committed to collaborate with NGOs on the issue of migrant workers’ rights and welfare. He noted that NGOs and TUs complement each other: NGOs have experience and expertise while the trade unions have stronger and far-reaching organization.

ILO’s Lotte Kejser emphasized the need to have a monitoring mechanism that will assess the impact of the ASEAN Declaration. Bro. Jose Umali, Jr. of the UNI-PLC Philippines reported important breakthroughs in the TU/CSO engagement with the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group and the Task Force on the ASEAN Charter which might lead to the inclusion of a clause on labour rights in the ASEAN Charter. Mr. Noel Esquela of the CMA pointed out that unions and NGOs sometimes speak different languages that must be bridged with continuous dialogue. Ms. Carla June Natan of the CIMW said that part of their advocacy is to encourage migrant workers to join unions. Bro. Mohd Shaffie BP Mammal, President of UNI MLC Malaysia and Secretary General of ASETUC briefed the participants on the UNI MLC Help Desk Project for Migrant Workers.

The Consultation-Workshop deliberated on, and adopted the Statement. The Statement underscored the commitment of the NGOs and unions to promote the rights and ensure the just and fair treatment of migrant workers and their families through close and wholehearted collaboration.

“By joining hands today in what we expect will be a historic effort to support the rights and aspirations of migrant workers throughout ASEAN, we state clearly that the status quo of exploited, abused, isolated, and forgotten migrant workers, toiling long hours with little hope of earning a fair wage while all the time facing dangerous conditions of work, is not acceptable. There must be a new deal for migrant workers in ASEAN, regardless of their origin or current documented status, which sets out in a binding framework the principle that migrant workers shall be guaranteed national treatment in their conditions of work and life outside of work.”



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