Malaysian CSO-TU Consultation on the ASEAN Framework on Migrant Workers, Kuala Lumpur, 28 March 2007

11 May 2007   |  ASEAN Migrant Workers   |  ASEAN  

CSOs-TUs Consultation Workshop
on the ASEAN Framework on Migrant Workers

28 March 2007, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers is a \'regional mechanism\" formed of regional civil society organizations, regional trade unions and national focal points with the key task of engaging ASEAN on the elaboration of an instrument to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers.

On 28 March 2007, the Task Force convened a regional consultation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to discuss the ASEAN Declaration on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers in the ASEAN region.  The consultation also aimed to elaborate on trade union and NGO collaboration in upholding the rights and wellbeing of migrant workers.

The consultation was attended by key regional migrant groups such as the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Mekong Migration Network (MMN), CARAM Asia and Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and representatives from the ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC) and Asia-Pacific Regional Organization of the Union Network International (UNI-APRO); and national migrant groups and trade unions coming from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam were also present in the consultation.  Among the resource persons and observers to the consultation were representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) Jakarta Office, Philippine Embassy in Malaysia, UN High Commission on Refugees in Malaysia and Southeast Asia Regional Cooperation in Human Development (SEARCH) - Canada.

The consultation started with an overview of the major concerns and issues on migration including feminization of migration, unemployment in the country of origin, how the host countries are being dependent to migrant labour but do not protect the migrant workers\' human and labour rights and the low ratification of international instruments and standards by the host countries.  

Common problems faced by migrant workers in the ASEAN include no mutual recognition of skills, non-payment of salary, lack of implementation of the core labour standards, unorganized labour [thus workers are not able to do collective bargaining], sweatshop working conditions and other forms of exploitation resulting to high incidence of undocumented migrant status.

In 2004, the ASEAN governments adopted the Vientiane Action Plan which includes the creation of a human rights mechanism in Southeast Asia, including a framework on migrant workers.  The Task Force was created to engage the ASEAN and to elaborate on the instrument for the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.

In 2007, at the 12th ASEAN Summit held in Cebu, Philippines, the ASEAN Head of States reaffirmed their commitment and came up with a declaration on the protection of the rights of migrant workers.  However, it was noted that the declaration is a non-binding document whose provisions are subject to existing national laws and policies on migrant workers in each of the ASEAN member states.  The declaration also limits its scope to only documented migrants and does not include any clause with regard to migrants\' right to health and access to health services, right to organize and form unions, minimum wage within the region, recognition of domestic work as work and humane practice in addressing undocumented migration.

The trade unions and migrant NGOs reiterated the need for a collaborative effort to address the concerns of migrant workers in the region.  Existing partnerships and programs between trade unions and migrant NGOs coming from both the sending and host countries were shared in the consultation.  For instance, in Malaysia, a helpdesk for Indonesian migrant workers was put up by ASPEK and UNI LRC.  UNI-Philippines is also finalizing a Memorandum of Agreement with UNI LRC to put up the same helpdesk for Filipino migrant workers in Malaysia.  In the Philippines, MFA, FES-Phils and LO-Norway is conducting a review of Philippine migration to be used as reference and come up with specific interventions for migrant NGOs and trade unions and prioritize areas for collaboration between the two sectors.  

Also noted was ILO\'s strong advocacy for migrant workers in terms of policy and legal frameworks, awareness-raising and advocacy, outreach, protection, livelihood activities and reintegration services for migrant domestic workers and their families, capacity-building for stakeholders, and through research, data collection and dissemination systems.  In 2006, a plan of action was adopted by the regional tri-partite representatives at the Asia Regional Meeting where among the priority areas include the development and adoption of Code of Practice for recruitment agencies, an ASEAN Treaty on Social Security Protection for migrant workers and promotion of a rights-based approach to managing labour migration.

It was noted there is a need to continue engagement with the ASEAN in creating a framework for the protection of the rights of all migrant workers in the ASEAN.  Among the recommendations put forward by the group are as follows:

  • Ratification and implementation of the UN Human Rights Treaties and core ILO Conventions
  •  Adopt policies that align with the ILO Multilateral Framework on Migrant Workers
  • Strengthen ASEAN-based CSO-TU collaboration on advocacy, documentation, assistance to migrant workers, monitoring, data sharing
  • ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC) to play a more active role in protecting and promoting the rights of migrant workers
  • Dialogue with the High Level Task Force on the ASEAN at the regional and national levels
  • National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) role in addressing migration issues
  • Recognition of domestic work as work
  • Recognition of the right to health and access to health services
Read full Kuala Lumpur Statement
ASEAN CSOs-TUs Consultation on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. “Forging and Strengthening Linkages among Migrant NGOs and Trade Unions” 28 March 2007, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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