Thursday, November 22, 2007

Asean rights pact 'ignores migrant workers'

Asean rights pact 'ignores migrant workers'
Nov 22, 07 1:00pm

Migrant rights groups in Southeast Asia have slammed Asean leaders for signing a charter that ignores the issue of migrant workers.

The charter establishes the regional bloc as a rules-based legal entity, creates a single market and production base, and allows for the free flow of business persons, professionals, talents and labour.

Yet, there is “not one word” that recognises the contributions of migrant workers towards the economic development of member-states, and neither are there provisions for the protection and promotion of their rights and welfare, said the groups in separate statements.

“The Asean charter is not an instrument to achieve justice and equality for migrant workers,” said Migrant Care coordinator (Malaysia) Alex Ong in a statement jointly signed by Jakarta-based executive director Anis Hidayah and policy analyst Wahyu Susilo.

As such, Asean has failed to deliver its mandate as an organisation that purports to represent the people of Southeast Asia, Ong added.

Asean leaders signed the charter and unveiled it earlier this week despite protests by civil society organisations, who decried the lack of transparency and consultation over the document and the ‘toothlessness’ of its human rights provisions.

Kuala Lumpur-based Caram Asia noted that Asean is a mix of sending and receiving countries for about 5 million migrant workers - most of whom are from Asean countries - who have contributed to the region’s economic progress and prosperity.

These are “the very people who built the foundation of economic development and helped cushion lower production costs for countries to remain economically competitive,” it said in a statement.

‘Secondary citizens’

There are, for instance, about 3 million migrant workers (both documented and undocumented) in Malaysia who constitute over 20 percent of the work force.

Filipinos, furthermore, contribute significantly to poverty eradication in the Philippines by remitting 13 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Yet, the supposedly ‘people-oriented Asean’ does not make mention of the protection for migrant workers rights,” said Caram Asia.

“Despite clear promises toward community-building espoused in the charter, the process has in effect marginalised Asean citizens, more so vulnerable groups such as migrant workers.”

While labour is written only in the charter as a condition for Asean’s ‘single market’ and speaks of facilitating the flow of movement, it does not cover mechanisms to manage migration flows and does not address the realities of trans-border migration issues.

“Often treated as secondary citizens in foreign countries, migrant workers are most vulnerable to human rights abuses. Major receiving countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have countless reported cases of abuse of migrant workers,” said Caram Asia.

“(We urge) the new rules-based Asean to strengthen its commitment towards upholding social justice for the people of Asean, including migrant communities.”

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