Asia: Labor & Migrant Workers' Rights

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The Sixth Assembly
Regional Networking

Asia: Labor & Migrant Workers' Rights

Organizers:
 
Moderator:
Sinapan Samydorai – Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (Singapore)
 
Rapporteur:
Sinapan Samydorai – Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (Singapore) with support from Joseph Chueng
 
Presenters:
Ip Pui Yu – International Domestic Worker Network (Hong Kong)
Dina Nuriyati – Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (Indonesia)
Han Dongfang – China Labour Bulletin (China)

The workshop focused on the rights of migrant workers in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. The opening presenters provided their analyses of the conditions of migrant workers in their countries, as well as their recommendations.
 
In discussing Hong Kong, Ip Pui Yu emphasized that more workers are going to Hong Kong because of the policies of their home countries, which encourage their people to work overseas to send remittances back home. In addition, women migrant workers bear more family burdens; family responsibilities are given over to migrant domestic workers by urban citizens; more female Filipino migrant domestic workers experience family problems; and Indonesian migrant domestic workers are mostly unmarried. More democratic states receiving migrant workers provide those workers with the right to organize, but they do not recognize them as domestic workers, so there is no protection for them under national labor law.
 
According to Dina Nuriyati’s presentation, the laws in Indonesia do not adequately protect nationals going overseas to work. Law No. 39, which regulates the overseas placement of migrant workers, only provides for limited protections of migrant workers rights. There is also a limit on the reintegration of returning migrant workers. Policy making lacks civil society and trade union involvement for example, the Indonesian government has memoranda of understanding (MOU) with eight countries but Indonesian migrant workers organizations are not even invited to monitor the implementation of such MOUs.
 
There is also weak and inadequate implementation of labor rights protection for the six million Indonesian overseas migrant workers, about 60 percent of whom are domestic workers who are recruited by private recruitment agencies to work overseas. Moreover, the Indonesian government does not recognize local domestic workers as workers, but sees them as informal-sector workers with no protection under the national labor law. Government-to-government arrangements, however, are reserved only for formal-sector workers. The Indonesian government is also pushing for more workers to go overseas to seek employment.
 
Ms. Nuriyati’s recommendations thus included the need to recognize the importance of civil society and trade union involvement in support of migrant workers; the need to ratify the 1990 UN Convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families; and the need to amend Indonesia law No. 39 on migration to provide greater protection for migrant workers.
 
In his presentation, Han Dongfang described the conditions of migrant workers in Shenzhen, China, where in one case a company rejected any compensation for workers affected by occupational disease. In addition, the Labour and Health Bureaus often failed to implement safety standards according to labor laws. Even if the laws are there, they are often inadequately enforced, so while the workers are provided with humanitarian support, no legal remedy is provided for their occupational diseases. There must also be greater recognition of internal migrant workers in China, since their social welfare is locked into the place of origin and determined by their place of origin, and those moving from rural to more urban areas are seen as temporary workers with no social protection.
 
Recommendations
 
  • Recognize and implement fundamental and basic rights, and provide welfare for all workers, including all migrant workers and their families.
  • Recognize and implement International Labor Organization (ILO) core labor standards for all workers, including all migrant workers.
  • Both origin and destination countries have the responsibility and obligation to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers, as follows:
  • Through non-discrimination;
  • By promoting decent, humane, dignified, and remunerative employment;
  • By providing fair and appropriate employment protection, payment of wages, and access to decent working and living conditions, minimum wages, etc.;
  • By providing migrant workers, who may be victims of discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and violence, with access to legal and judicial systems of origin and destination countries;
  • By regulating the recruitment of migrant workers and by adopting mechanisms to eliminate recruitment malpractices, such as legal contracts,  regulation of recruitment agencies and employers, and blacklisting of negligent and unlawful agencies;
  • By recognizing domestic work as work under labor law with the right to organize;
  • By providing social protection and insurance for all workers, including informal-sector workers;
  • By protecting the basic rights of all undocumented workers and regularizing them when they are undocumented;
  • By recognizing and protecting victims of labor trafficking and punishing the traffickers;
  • ASEAN Plus Three should work on developing a regional instrument to improve the condition of migrant workers;
  • Migrant worker groups, civil society, and NGOs have the responsibility to support and protect workers in a destination country, including ensuring decent and responsible employers and the ability of trade unions to work with employers to address the issue;
  • Establish union-to-union arrangements to support migrant workers through worker organization;
  • Initiate exchanges of information about migrant worker realities. 
Goals for 2010 – 2011
 
  • Establish trade unions and worker associations, particularly where labor
     rights violations are increasing;
  • Promote public awareness of the situations of migrant workers and their rights;
  • Get employer associations to respect and implement decent working and living
    conditions;
  • Arrange tax policies in origin and destination countries so as to avoid
    double taxing;
  • Get domestic work recognized as work and national labor laws to provide protection for domestic workers. 
Recommendations for the Asia Region
 
  • Campaign for a legally-binding regional framework instrument or agreement to protect and promote the rights of all migrant workers in both origin and destination countries in Southeast and Northeast Asia.
  • Establish contacts with existing networks of organizations conducting policy research on migrant workers in Southeast and Northeast Asia (ASEAN Plus Three countries).