ASEAN leaders sign commitment protecting migrant workers

Patty Pasion

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ASEAN leaders sign commitment protecting migrant workers
The consensus is a followup document to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers adopted in January 2007 in Cebu

MANILA, Philippines – After a decade, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has finally made progress in ensuring the protection of migrant workers. 

Southeast Asian leaders closed their 31st ASEAN Summit, which coincides with the golden anniversary of the community, by signing the “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” on Tuesday, November 14. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, representing the Philippines as ASEAN chair, presented the signed document to ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

This consensus is a followup document to the “ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” adopted in January 2007 in Cebu. 

It includes the following provisions: 

  • Fair treatment of migrant workers with respect to gender and nationality
  • Visitation rights by family members
  • Prohibition against confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees
  • Protection against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Regulation of recruiters for better protection of workers
  • Right to fair and appropriate remuneration benefits and their right to join trade unions and association

It also serves as a commitment by ASEAN member-states to formulate a plan of action to implement the rights specified. This plan will be made during next year’s meetings under the chairmanship of Singapore. 

The creation of the consensus took more than 10 years because parties could not agree on the legal nature of the document, the protection of undocumented workers and the coverage of migrant workers’ families. 

Philippines and Indonesia, both source countries, wanted a legally-binding framework. Singapore and Malaysia only wanted the document to be a guide to avoid the increase in the number of undocumented migrants. Both countries are migration hubs for workers. 

Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said they opted not to spell out whether or not the document is legally-binding since signatories are already aware of their commitments. 

Silence on undocumented workers 

Despite being a landmark gain, the consensus was still silent on the issue of undocumented workers. There are around 10 million migrant workers in the region, many of whom are staying in foreign countries without proper papers. Philippine statistics, meanwhile, show that there are around 212,435 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Southeast Asia. 

Left-leaning OFW group Migrante said these OFWs are those whose work permits were not renewed or who were forced to leave their employers due to abuse and exploitation. 

Migrante also urged ASEAN to create a body that will oversee violations and concerns of the migrant workers, whether as a consultative body or a tribunal. 

“Because there is a lack of support mechanisms in both sending and receiving countries, the tendency is always to deport or repatriate victims of abuse and exploitation resulting in the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators,” said the labor organization.

Aside from this commitment, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, the people-centered pillar of the association, also adopted the: 

  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Ending All Forms of Malnutrition 
  • ASEAN Leaders’  Declaration on Anti-Microbial Resistance 
  • ASEAN Leaders’  Declaration on Disaster Health Management 
  • ASEAN Declaration on the Gender-Responsive Implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and Sustainable Development Goals 
  • ASEAN Declaration on Culture of Prevention for a Peaceful, Inclusive, Resilient, Healthy and Harmonious Society 
  • ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change to the UNFCCC COP-23
  • Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security in ASEAN

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.