From 16-17 September, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised the second Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More than 40 representatives from governments, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), recruitment agencies’ associations from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, the Embassies of the Republic of the Philippines and Japan in Phnom Penh and intergovernmental organisations gathered to hear research findings from the MMN’s most recent publication and discuss how countries of origin can expand their role in enhancing migrants’ access to social protection across borders. The Policy Dialogue took place in tandem with a Labour Ministerial Conference held on 17 September in Siem Reap between governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (CLMTV) aimed at creating a joint framework on the portability of social security for migrant workers in CLMTV.
Between 2018 and 2019, the MMN conducted a research project to examine current efforts in countries of origin, namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, to facilitate migrant workers’ access to social protection throughout the migration cycle and highlight migrants’ experiences in accessing these mechanisms. The resulting study, entitled, “Social Protection Across Borders: Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants’ Rights”, is based on case studies of migrant workers currently in Thailand, migrant returnees in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam and interviews with government officials, CSOs and recruitment agencies’ associations. The report highlights recurring issues faced by migrant workers across the three countries in accessing social protection schemes in destination countries and at home.
In her opening remarks, Her Excellency Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Interior, Royal Kingdom of Cambodia, noted the importance of multilateral collaboration between countries of origin to address common issues and concerns faced by migrant workers in the region. Ms Yin Yin Ohn, Deputy Director-General, Social Security Board, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, Myanmar, also believed that enhanced international cooperation is necessary as migration is “multi-dimensioned, complex and involves cross-border and cross-cutting issues.” Regarding migrant workers’ access to social protection, she reported that the Myanmar government is currently negotiating with the governments of Thailand and Malaysia to enable the portability of social security for migrant workers.
In the following seven panels of the Policy Dialogue, the MMN presented its key findings along with recommendations for governments and recruitment agencies of countries of origin to enhance migrant workers’ access to social protection. In the discussion, participants also addressed a number of topics, including the current initiatives by different stakeholders to disseminate information relating to social protection schemes of destination countries, types of support available to migrant workers by embassies and diplomatic missions, the roles and responsibilities of recruitment agencies in assisting migrant workers’ access to social protection and the current progress regarding the establishment of mechanisms to support portable social security between destination countries and countries of origin.
At the end of each day, participants of the Policy Dialogue broke into groups consisting of a cross-section of representatives from governments, CSOs and recruitment agencies’ associations to discuss existing gaps in policies and practices to support access to social protection, specifically under the themes of “migration mechanisms”, “information dissemination”, “overseas assistance”, “roles and responsibilities of recruitment agencies”, “international cooperation”, “assistance upon return” and “social security in countries of origin”. Based on the results of the discussion, participants collectively developed a set of recommendations to address identified gaps and improve access to social protection. Key recommendations for governments of countries of origin include:
- Ensuring information relevant to migrant workers’ benefits and rights is available, understandable and accessible;
- Enhancing cooperation between Labour Attachés/Counsellors and different stakeholders, such as CSOs, in order to strengthen migrant workers’ access to social protection;
- Effectively monitoring recruitment agencies to make sure they comply with legal standards; and
- Encouraging recruitment agencies to adopt and uphold industry Codes of Conduct.
In the long term, countries of origin should ensure uninterrupted and transferrable social protection regardless of migrants’ location of work; encourage the formation of a subcommittee under the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers to establish a framework for the portability of social protection; develop inclusive social protection schemes that migrants can voluntarily participate in and access when abroad; and establish flexible money transfer systems enabling migrants to contribute to social protection schemes through digital systems. Countries of origin should also take steps towards establishing a welfare fund for migrants in their respective countries at the appropriate time.
Over the course of the two-day Policy Dialogue, participants recognised the need for continued cross-country and multistakeholder collaboration to further enhance migrants’ access to social protection and better safeguard their rights. The MMN thanks all participants for their contributions to an engaging discussion.