Cross Regional Consultation and Co-Creation Workshop in Developing a Joint Advocacy Platform on the Rights of Migrants in East and Southeast Asia

The international movement of labor has become a major driver of economic growth. In many Asian countries, foreign manpower is needed to fill in the gaps in the labor force. Migrant workers form the backbone of the flourishing industries of fishing, manufacturing, care work, plantation work, shipbuilding, construction work, hospitality, and farm work, among others. As of June 2018, Singapore hosted as many as 1,371,700 foreign workers. Of this figure, domestic workers numbered around 250,000 people (18.22%), and those who worked in the construction sector made up 20.44% of the total foreign workforce. Meanwhile, Thailand received over 2 million documented migrants from Myanmar (1.43 million), Cambodia (487,000), Laos (128,000) and Vietnam (no reliable statistics available) as of May 2016. There were around 1.7 million migrants working in Malaysia in 2017 (excluding undocumented migrants).

In the same way, some East Asian countries have come to depend on foreign labor in several sectors. As of 2015, there were at least 331,989 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, and the number of foreign workers in Taiwan exceeded 700,000 people in 2018. Japan hosted approximately 1.28 million migrant workers among its workforce of 66 million in 2017, while migrant workers in South Korea amounted to over 600,000 people in 2016.

These figures have kept growing and the large portion of these foreign workers originated from countries in Southeast Asia. This migration of labor has generated substantial remittance flows into countries of origin, which has substantiated to increase the development in sectors such as education, health care and general economy. However, despite their huge contribution to both countries of origin and destination, protection mechanisms remain inadequate to ensure that migrants’ rights are respected, protected and fulfilled along the migratory processes. Migrants are vulnerable to a string of violations of rights, which include confiscation of work permit and other documents, unilateral or unauthorized dismissal, non-payment and/or withholding of wages, debt bondage, unpaid overtime work, as well as physical and sexual abuse, among others.

At a regional level, progress has been made in order to protect migrant workers. In 2017, ASEAN Leaders came together to sign a document that promises a better-coordinated approach toward migration management, the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ASEAN Consensus). This document falls short of civil society’s expectation as it is not legally binding, and thus ASEAN Member States (AMS) are not legally obliged to implement the commitments expressed in the document. In addition, its implementation is subject to ‘national laws and regulations’ of each ASEAN Member State.

Approximately one-third of migrant workers originated from ASEAN member states work within the region, however, migrant workers from Southeast Asia are in high demand in the aging society countries in the East Asia region in recent years. In this situation, the cross-regional platform between the two regions becomes significantly important. The existing platform representing the East and Southeast Asian Regions is ASEAN Plus Three (APT) which consists of ten ASEAN member states and the three East Asian countries, China, South Korea, and Japan. Even though this mechanism has been addressed the migrant workers’ concern among those two regions, but the cooperation is considerably weak and on the ad hoc basis. Therefore, the new initiative from civil societies in these regions is necessary to flourish the participation, sharing platform, and dialogue among East and Southeast Asian countries.

The interaction among civil society organizations in Southeast and East Asian countries are considerably few in terms of migrant workers issues. However, some civil society organizations and Universities in ASEAN have succeed to work together with other organizations in Southeast Asian countries such as the Human Rights Working Group, Migrant Forum Asia, ASEAN Task Force on Migrant Workers, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (Mahidol University), The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), and many more.

Having said that, it is necessary for civil society organizations in ASEAN and East Asian Countries to begin the dialogue and discussion to continue their cooperation in the next stage. Furthermore, migration and people on the move are becoming an important issue to be addressed in these regions taking into consideration its intersectionality with refugees, children of migrant workers, ageing societies, seafarers, human trafficking, and so forth. In this regard, HRWG would like to invite civil society organizations in both regions to initiate the conversation about sharing platform on the rights of migrant workers and beyond in Southeast and Asian countries.

The Objectives of this Event is to discuss the common objectives with regard to migrant workers’ rights protection in Southeast and East Asian Countries; Identify a feasible cooperation among civil society organizations in Southeast and East Asian Countries to develop offline and online platform for migrant workers rights’ advocacy and Identify strategies and follow-up plans to achieve cooperation among CSOs in Southeast and Asian Countries.

The workshop will be held from 17 to 19 July 2019 at Rattanakosin room, in Sukosol Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand.

To see the Program Activities: