Mekong Vocabulary on Labour Migration

Despite migrant workers being the backbone of economic and social development in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), they are denied many essential rights, benefits, and labour protections. In order to formulate coherent responses, collaboration across borders and sectors, including with workers, is crucial. This has been hindered at times by a lack of common understanding of the issues and relevant terminologies among state and non-state actors, due to both language barriers and differing perspectives on migration issues. Furthermore, a general lack of understanding about labour standards in neighbouring countries in the GMS has often impeded discussions on improving protection mechanisms for migrant workers.

In light of these challenges, MMN launched the project entitled, Mekong Vocabulary on Labour Migration: Promoting a Common Language Understanding in the Region and Building a Regional Network for Safe Migration in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with the support of the Toyota Foundation Asian Neighbours Program. This project aimed to fill an information gap by increasing common understanding of vocabulary surrounding migration. As an outcome of the project, the handbook Speaking of Migration: Mekong Vocabulary on Migration was created, which includes approximately 120 terms on migration issues translated into Burmese, Chinese, Khmer, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese. As a companion handbook to Speaking of Migration, the handbook Legally Binding: A Summary of Labour Laws in the Greater Mekong Subregion was also published to assist migrant rights advocates in understanding national labour laws in GMS countries. MMN hopes that in the future these booklets will become a useful reference tool for those advocating for the realisation of more robust labour protection for all workers in the GMS.

MMN Project Partners

  • Htoo Chit and Po Po, Foundation for Education and Development;
  • Charm Leng and Luern Warn, Shan Women’s Action Network;
  • Vichuta Ly and Mom Sokchar, Legal Support for Children and Women;
  • Chhorn Ann, Cambodian Women for Peace and Development;
  • Han Jialing and Cui Xiaoying, Migrant Workers Education and Action Research Centre;
  • Betty Tang and Mingming Xiang, Association for Women’s Capacity Building and Community Development in Yunnan;
  • Kabmanivanh Phouxay, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Oulavanh Sinsamphanh, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, National University of Laos;
  • Jackie Pollock, Kanchana Diut, Reena Arora and Chan Mye Aye, MAP Foundation;
  • Liz Hilton, EMPOWER Foundation;
  • Sutthida Malikaew and Pranom Somwong, MMN Associate Member; and 
  • Huynh Thi Ngoc Tuyet and Le Thanh Sang, Center of Research and Consultancy for Development, Southern Institute of Sustainable Development.

Key Activities

Speaking of Migration: Mekong Vocabulary on Migration contains 117 definitions translated into the six official GMS languages (Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese). The terminology included in the handbook was selected based on the following criteria: 1) key terminology to understand the situation of migrants in the GMS; 2) key terminology to promote the rights of migrants; and 3) new conceptual terminology being adopted by United Nation agencies and international organisations. The main target groups for the handbook were migrant advocates, civil society organisations (CSOs), and policy makers. This vocabulary handbook is a timely and necessary tool that facilitates collaboration and cooperative advocacy among CSOs as well as among policy makers in GMS countries.

Definitions were initially drafted by project members in their own languages and translated into English before being shared among other project members from across the subregion. In so doing, project members were able to discuss how terms differed across the GMS languages. After reviewing all of the available existing glossaries on migration issues during a workshop, project members from different countries collectively developed the final English text. When drafting the the definitions in English, team members chose wording that was more accessible to the public and respectful to migrants. Through a process of team-work and mutual consensus, definitions were chosen that reflected the common understandings of project members from all six GMS countries.

Legally Binding: A Summary of Labour Laws in the Greater Mekong Subregion is a concise guide to understanding labour standards according to the national labour laws of the six GMS countries. Labour protection has been classified into 14 key elements, with relevant international laws also included. Gaining an understanding of the labour protections available to migrant workers according to each GMS country’s national labour laws enables policy makers and advocates to have informed discussions about labour protection, and also supports the strengthening of bilateral and/or regional collaboration and coordination in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers. By producing this handbook, MMN’s goal, in addition to promoting understanding of existing labour standards in the region, was also to help migrant rights advocates identify relevant labour laws when responding to labour rights abuses.


Further Reading

Legally Binding Online Tool

You will be redirected to the MMN Legally Binding online tool developed in 2011, which contains a summary of national labour laws in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Speaking of Migration Online Tool

You will be redirected to our Speaking of Migration online tool webpage developed in 2011, which contains explanations of key terms related to migration as well as terms to avoid.