On 13 January 2007, ASEAN Member States made a political commitment to protect migrant workers’ rights and to promote decent, humane, productive, dignified and remunerative employment. This commitment was enshrined in the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers popularly known as Cebu Declaration. Article 22 of the Declaration called for the development of an ASEAN Instrument to advance the agenda of the Declaration. Migrant Forum in Asia welcomed this effort by the ASEAN Member States for taking an important step in recognizing and protecting the human and labour rights of migrant workers in their territories.
This year marks the 10th year anniversary of the Cebu Declaration and 50th Anniversary of ASEAN. But where is ASEAN in terms of fulfilling their commitment to migrant workers who, despite of their enormous contributions to ASEAN economies, are often neglected or ignored? Migrant workers particularly those in low-skilled sectors, have to brave harsh working and living conditions and too often are underpaid or not paid at all, work long hours without overtime pay, lack social protection, beaten, abused and even tortured.
For decades, the living and working conditions of migrant workers have been governed by national laws and regulations that do not provide adequate protection mechanisms for migrant workers, leaving many of them unprotected and vulnerable to precarious working conditions, particularly undocumented migrants and migrant domestic workers who are often excluded from the scope of national laws and regulations. While ASEAN Member States forged bilateral labour agreements and initiated reforms, these are not adequate to protect the rights of all migrant workers, commit to worker’s welfare, and promote decent work for all migrants.
At the last ASEAN Summit held April this year, ASEAN Member States have failed migrant workers again for not being able to finalize and adopt the Instrument, despite the retreat meeting in Davao City last February 2017 and the special meeting in Manila last March.
The Senior Labour Officials will meet again in Manila on 25-26 August to “finalise” the Instrument for it to be ready for signing at the 31st ASEAN Summit in November 2017. Can ASEAN deliver its commitment this year and back up their rhetoric with action? Can Philippines under its leadership make it happen?