Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers

TF AMW proposes the Civil Society ASEAN Framework Instrument on the protection  and promotion of Rights of Migrant Worker to ASEAN and calls for full participation and engagement of Trade Unions and NGOs to move forward.


After two years of intensive consultation, the civil society Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW) has formally proposed a detailed civil society Framework Instrument for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers to the Mr. Khamkhane Phinsavanh, Chairman of the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM) at the Lao Plaza Hotel in Vientiane, Lao PDR, on May 12, 2009. The detailed civil society proposed comprehensive Framework Instrument contains 192 recommendations covering all aspects of migration. The meeting, arranged by the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) and the TF-AMW, marked an important step in the process of substantive civil society engagement with ASEAN. 


In the accompanying letter, Sinapan Samydorai, the Convener of the TF-AMW, called for greater participation of civil society in ASEAN’s deliberations, ensuring the final ASEAN agreement covers all workers irregardless of status or origin, and bringing forward an ASEAN agreement on migration that is binding on all ASEAN nations. 

Sinapan Samydorai, the Convener of the TF-AMW, said that “The TF-AMW is strongly committed to engaging with ASEAN and its Member States on this critical issue over the long term.  There needs to be a new deal for migrant workers in ASEAN, where their rights are respected, and laws and policies are harmonized with international labour standards.” TF -AMW hopes that such dialogues will pave the way to define strategies and policies that deal fairly and justly with the rights of all migrant workers’.

On May 11-12, the TF-AMW held a regional consultation which brought together trade union and NGO leaders from eight ASEAN countries at the newly opened training center of the Lao Trade Union Development Institute. In the morning session, the delegates heard the opening statement delivered by LFTU President Vongphet Xaykeuyachongtoua. Addresses were also made by Christopher Ng, the Secretary of Union Network International – APRO, and by Philip S. Robertson Jr., the Technical Advisor of the TF-AMW who was representing the Canadian donor organization, SEARCH.


In the afternoon session, the delegates listen to inputs from senior ASEAN secretariat official Dr. Donald Tambunan, the Head of the Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers Division, who address the TF-AMW organized Regional Consultation. Dr. Tambunan praised the sustained effort of the TF-AMW in preparing such a comprehensive draft, provided helpful information on the evolving operations of ASEAN as a newly chartered organization, and informally agreed to provide copies of the TF-AMW Framework Instrument to arriving Government delegations.   .  


On May 12, trade union and NGO delegates from each of the 8 ASEAN countries present at the TF-AMW traveled to the Lao Plaza Hotel to meet their national government delegations attending ASEAN SLOM and to hand deliver the ASEAN civil society Framework Instrument.   These meetings offered civil society representatives a chance to explain why the Governments should consider the policy proposals and recommendations in the civil society Framework Instrument, and allowed for relationships to be developed between these key officials and the civil society advocates. 

Following the meetings with the Governments, the TF-AMW delegates returned to the LFTU’s training center to continue their discussions, and set out plans to develop National Working Groups on Migrant Workers under the auspices of the TF AMW to conduct advocacy and lobby for adoption of substantive parts of the ASEAN civil society Framework Instrument proposal. 


The delegates also discussed practical issues focused on strategies, budget, and information sharing that will be required as they move forward to engage with the national government focal points in the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW).  It will be the officials on the ACMW who will take forward the Government process of negotiating a regional Instrument for ASEAN on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.


The ASEAN civil society Framework Instrument is the product of 8 national consultations and 7 regional consultations, and numerous informal sessions in person, at meetings and over the internet to craft a comprehensive proposal to ASEAN. Sinapan Samydorai explained that “millions of migrant workers are seeking a better future for themselves and their families by working abroad in ASEAN, and as economic integration intensifies leading to the full economic integration of ASEAN by 2015, this number will grow.  There needs to an agreement to protect their rights and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.” He added that the Instrument that is agreed to by ASEAN should be legally binding, in line with the new ASEAN Charter which has given the organization a legal identity. 


In terms of background and processes to date, ASEAN has set up the ACMW, which is composed of representatives of each of the ten ASEAN Member States, and formally tasked the Committee to draft a regional agreement (“the Instrument”) to protect the rights of migrant workers, as called for in Article 22 of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers adopted by the leaders of ASEAN in Cebu, the Philippines, on January 13, 2007.   The importance of having a binding framework for the protection of migrant worker rights, and regulation of labour movements in ASEAN can no longer be overlooked by ASEAN now that the ASEAN Charter has been adopted.  

The ASEAN Charter describes the magnitude of the economic integration plan by noting that ASEAN will “create a single market and production base which is stable, prosperous, highly competitive and economically integrated with effective facilitation for trade and investment in which there is free flow of goods, services and investment; facilitated movement of business persons, professionals, talents and labour; and freer flow of capital.”  However, ASEAN also commits in the Charter to “enhance the well-being and livelihood of the peoples of ASEAN by providing them with equitable access to opportunities for human development, social welfare and justice” and to “promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building.”


The work of the TF-AMW receives both technical and financial support from the Southeast Asia Regional Cooperation in Human Development (SEARCH) project, which is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  Philip Robertson, the SEARCH Technical Advisor for Migration and Workers Rights, said that “We at SEARCH believe that dialogue and involvement of a variety of stakeholders including civil society, trade unions, migrant worker’s groups, multilateral organizations, and ASEAN Governments is essential to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers in the region.” 


Sinapan Samydorai,

Convener, Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers
20 May 2009