Migrant Workers’ Rights in ASEAN Region: A Baseline Study

Labour migration is a global growing concern in the 21st century. In the ASEAN region, migrant workers form the backbone of the sprawling fishing industries of Thailand, the concrete jungles of Singapore and the lucrative plantations of Malaysia. They also traverse public-private boundaries to ‘maintain’ the smooth running of households, thus allowing their employers to participate in the national workforce.

Despite this huge significance, holistic measures and legal frameworks to respect, protect and fulfill migrant workers’ rights at a regional level remain inadequate. Ideally, there should be a legally binding regional instrument that guarantees the rights of migrant workers throughout the migration cycle. However, a decade of elusive negotiations proves to be unsuccessful. ASEAN states still cannot come to an agreement on the adoption of such an instrument. As an alternative, ASEAN states have recently adopted ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ASEAN Consensus).

This choice is largely criticised because the document simply imposes moral weight, as opposed to legal obligations, on ASEAN states. This means that ASEAN Consensus merely governs the basic principles and norms without specifying any concrete and directly applicable measures to protect migrant workers. Furthermore, most of the principles enumerated in the ASEAN Consensus are subject to national laws of ASEAN states, making the protection of migrant workers relatively uncertain and weak.

In order to ensure the utmost protection, promotion, and enjoyment of the rights of migrant workers, it is important to understand the situation and context of human rights problems affecting migrant workers in the region. Against such a backdrop, the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) carried out a baseline study and organised a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on 30-31 August 2018 with the purpose to collect crucial information and data from representatives of Civil Society Organization (CSO) in each ASEAN Member State (AMS). This baseline study is aimed at identifying the current conditions pertaining to the implementation of migrant workers’ rights, focusing in particular on the following issues that are already discussed in the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ASEAN Consensus):

  1. decent work and social protection
  2. undocumented migrant workers and cross-cutting human rights issues
  3. access to justice
  4. information, empowerment, and recruitment
  5. repatriation and reintegration
  6. cooperation among AMS and mechanisms
  7. standard-setting and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Family Members 

It is paramount to have a baseline study on issues that have become a political commitment of ASEAN Member States, for it could help ensure the effective implementation of such a commitment in addressing human rights abuses against migrant workers Migrant Workers’ Rights in ASEAN Region: A Baseline Study is aimed at offering an insight into the human rights situation of migrant workers in the ASEAN region post the 2017 ASEAN Consensus. As a result of collaborative work of ASEAN civil society, this book shows a common concern on the state of migrant workers as well as the hope of more collaborative work among ASEAN states to improve such situation.

Download the full book in Google Drive or Dropbox.