Sunday, December 14, 2008

Letter from TF-AMW to ASEAN

Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers

November 25, 2008

H.E. Surin Pitsuwan
Secretary-General, ASEAN
ASEAN Secretariat
Jakarta, Indonesia

RE: Development of Engagement Mechanism between ASEAN Committee for Migrant Workers (ACMW) and the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW)

Dear Secretary-General Surin,

This statement reflects the views of the participants of a regional consultation of key stakeholders convened by the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW) on November 24-25, 2008, to discuss the rights of migrant workers under the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers. At the outset, we commend ASEAN for following through to ensure the timely establishment of the ACMW, which held its first meeting in Singapore in September 2008. We take this as a clear indication of ASEAN’s commitment to implement an Instrument (as called for by the above-mentioned ASEAN Declaration) which will effectively protect migrant workers who are among ASEAN’s most vulnerable groups.

The TF-AMW kindly requests your assistance in supporting the development of a system of substantive participation and engagement to be set up between the newly established ACMW and the TF-AMW. The TF-AMW serves as the platform for ASEAN civil society groups working for the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. We believe that this action would be in line with your vision for a “sharing, caring” ASEAN where citizens’ participation is both sought and respected. It is our view that the way this request for greater participation by civil society organizations is handled by ASEAN will be an important indicator of the level of collaboration that a “New ASEAN” plans to extend to its citizens and their grass-roots organizations in the future.

As you already know, the TF-AMW is hard at work developing a civil society version of the Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrants Workers. The TF-AMW has so far held seven national consultations (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) to channel the voice of national civil society organizations into our process. The recommendations resulting from those consultations have informed our work on the Instrument, and we have just completed our intensive review and revision of the 3rd draft of that Instrument. When completed, we intend to submit the final version of ASEAN civil society’s Instrument to both you and to the Senior Labor Officials Meeting (SLOM) at its upcoming meeting in Bangkok in 2009.
The civil society Framework Instrument is guided by four central principles. First, it will include and cover all migrant workers in ASEAN. Second, it will recognize that migration benefits both sending and receiving countries. Third, it will follow the principles of non-discrimination in treatment provided to migrant workers and their families. Finally, given the predominance of women who are migrating for work, it will ensure that migration policies and practices are formulated with attention to gender concerns.

There are four sections in our draft Instrument focusing as follows:

“Obligations of Labour Receiving Countries.”
From the outset, a key recommendation include ensuring that migrant workers are treated in accordance with the core labour standards of the ILO. The Instrument calls for according “national treatment” to migrant workers in terms of wages and conditions of work, and instituting standard contracts for hiring migrant workers throughout the region. The Instrument reaffirms migrant workers’ rights to hold their own passports and worker identification and calls for strong penalties against employers and others who seize these documents. Furthermore, the Instrument seeks special attention to the challenges faced by particularly vulnerable migrant domestic workers. Other areas where action is sought include ensuring provision of health care for migrant workers and their families, guaranteeing safe and hygienic accommodation and living conditions, making certain there are effective systems of inspection, and providing migrant workers with effective access to legal systems and justice.

“Obligations of Labour Sending Countries.”
These are understood to include effective pre-departure training systems and programs. Efforts should also be focused on vocational training and capacity building, especially for the CLMV countries. These elements are part of a larger set of requirements related to deployment of effective systems to regulate migrant workers’ departure to work in another country as well as their return and reintegration to their origin country. The Instrument also urges Governments to institute effective accreditation and regulation processes to oversee labour recruitment agencies in order to prevent abuses. Another area for action is to ensure systems of protection for migrant workers, through deployment and pro-active efforts of committed labour attachés or other staff at sending country Embassies in labour receiving countries.

“Joint Obligations of Labour Sending and Labour Receiving States.”
Among the areas where action is recommended is effective regulation of labour recruitment agencies; institution of practical and effective grievance systems that can be used by migrant workers; development of schemes to facilitate the migration of skilled labourers and recognition of their skills; effective suppression of human trafficking; and setting up easy-to-access systems to facilitate transfer of workers’ remittances and creation of safe institutions where migrant workers can save their money. Finally, and importantly, the section calls for member states to harmonize their national labour laws with international labour standards.

“Commitments by ASEAN.”
This section discusses administrative requirements, such as reporting and encourages participatory systems that include ASEAN civil society, both at the national and regional level. The Instrument also explores some of the possibilities for future ASEAN systems to protect migrant workers (such as an ASEAN worker ID, hotline, portable insurance). Concerning the forthcoming ASEAN Human Rights Body, the Instrument recommends the creation of an AHRB Subcommittee on the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Instrument lays out systems that could be further developed by ASEAN to manage the responsibility (set out in the ASEAN Declaration on Migrant Workers) for mutual cooperation among ASEAN countries in assisting migration workers from ASEAN when they are toiling in countries that are outside ASEAN.

Obviously, this is just a short summary of civil society’s Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers, which now stretches to 35 pages and 171 articles. We look forward to continue the dialogue with you and your staff in the future on the specifics of the system of protection for migrant workers that the TF-AMW and its component regional and national networks of NGOs, trade unions, and other stakeholders desire.

Finally, since many of these issues are central to the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprint which will be approved by the ASEAN Summit in December, we have taken the liberty of sharing this letter with the delegates of the ASEAN Social Forum meeting in Manila on November 27-28, 2008.

I look forward to discussing these issues with you and your staff in the near future.

With best wishes,

Sinapan Samydorai
Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers

Chair, ASEAN Social Forum – Nov. 27-28 meeting
All Focal Points, ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW)
ASEAN Department, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, ASEAN Member States