2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour, 30-31 July 2009, Bangkok

The Thai government (vide the Ministry of Labour), the chair of the Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW), convened the forum which was aimed to serve as an open platform for discussion and exchanging of views and ideas amongst the different stakeholders on the labour migration issue. The recommendations and suggestions from this forum are to be submitted to the ACMW for their consideration.

The ACMW has appointed and designated a drafting committee from within its ranks to draft a regional instrument. This drafting committee is composed of 2 sending and 2 receiving countries namely Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The ASEAN plans to hold a meeting in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the first draft of the regional instrument in the first week of October 2009. In January 2010, the draft will be discussed again in the Philippines. In March 2010, there will be national consultations on the draft with civil society groups. In April 2010, there will be the third ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour, to which Vietnam will be the chair. The Framework is expected to be adopted in October 2010 at the ASEAN Summit.

The Thai Ministry of Labour, the host of of the 2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour, created space for civil society participation in the Forum and the MMN and other migrant advocates in the region hope that this practice will be continued for the future meetings. For this Forum, MMN was represented by Ms Pranom Somwong and Ms Porntik Puckmai. Ms Jackie Pollock, the executive director of MAP Foundation, Thailand, and who is also the chairperson of the MMN, was invited as a panel speaker.

On the 30th of July, the Forum was officially opened by H.E. Phaithoon Kaeothong, Minister of Labour of Thailand.

The first speaker was Ms Thetis Mangahas from International Labour Organisation, presented on an overview on ASEAN Migration. Her presentation covered inter alia the issue of irregular migration, which Thetis described as one of the challenges.

In the afternoon, there were two parallel Sessions.
Panel one was entitled “ASEAN Stakeholders: what should be their role?” The speakers were Jackie Pollock, MAP Foundation and Christopher Ng, Uni APRO.

Presentation “ASEAN Stakeholders and Their Roles” , Jackie Pollock (PDF 1.6 MB)

Panel two was entitled “The regional instrument: How to move forward“ and the speaker was Mr Sinapan Samydorai, the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers.

After these panel sessions, participants were split into two groups for discussion and the outcomes of which were reported the following day.

copyright ASEAN

Highlights of issue and process:

Irregular migration:
In both group discussions civil society recommended the governments thatthe final ASEAN Regional Instrument shall cover all migrants, which would naturally include undocumented migrants as well as families of migrant workers, both of which are excluded by the ASEAN Declaration. There was no consensus on this however.

Other discussion points included the following:

1) Migrant Workers and Their Families: Civil Society suggested the governments to recognize migrant workers and their families as well as their organizations and communities are main stakeholders and that they are part of CSO. It sparked the objection from Ministry of Human Resources from Malaysia since they are not agreeable that migrants are part of civil society. The discussion went on to suggest that and the regional instrument be consistent with the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, ASEAN GATS, and ASEAN Charter.

ASEAN states who have ratified to Internation Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members (1990) stated that the convention states clearly as to who is covered, and the ASEAN Instrument must be in line with this UN Convention. Thus the ASEAN Instrument must include families.

Ms Pranom Somwong, an MMN representative, addressed the issue of equality of person before the law, , and the challenges of states on which laws they will use to interpret when it comes to labour migration.
Charles Hector, the Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM) addressed issue of restrictive conditions on work permits and the discrimination currently in place between different categories of migrant workers in Malaysia. In Malaysia, whilst certain categories of migrant workers not only cannot bring their families with them, but also are not allowed to marry whilst they are in Malaysia under work permits. At the same time, these restrictions do not apply to migrant workers in other categories. This is clearly a case of discrimination and is contrary to Malaysian Constitution.

2) Gender: Forum generally seems to have reached a consensus on importance of the gender aspect of migration and in particular the need for recognition of women’s work as work. The current exclusion of workers in sectors typically seen as women’s work, e.g. domestic work, from the national labour laws, must be reviewed and changed. The participants of the Forum also proposed that the final instrument be legally binding.

Civil Society representative urged the drafting committee to: 1) consider using key elements of the ASEAN Instrument Framework, which was prepared by the ASEAN Task Force on Migrant Workers, after numerous national and regional consultations; and2) to make the regional instrument consistent withthe fundamental human rights and labour standards contained in UN and ILO conventions.

There was also a proposal to set up a Sub-Commission for Migrant Workers (SCMW) under the ASEAN Inter-Government Commission for Human Rights (AIGCHR).

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) representatives addressed and requested the clarification on the process of involvement of CSO in 3rd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labor. They also expressed their appreciation for openness of the Thai government, who invited CSO representatives to be resource persons in the panels, and many more as participants in this forum and commented that such a practice will be continued for the next meeting in Vietnam. ASEAN secretariat representatives openly agreed with this suggestion, but stated that it was up to the host country to determine of a list of invitees. ILO suggested making the recommended list of invitees for the next forum based on representatives at the 2nd forum.

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