Our world today faces extraordinary challenges as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), APWLD, ThinkCentre, CARAM, and Mekong Migration Network welcome the return to the in-person meeting of the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour under the theme “Resumption of Labour Migration and Regional Cooperation”. As governments and stakeholders come together for the 15th AFML, we hope that protection of migrant workers’ rights and access to social protection for all will be central in the discussions on “building back better post COVID-19”.
Sub-theme 1: Economic Recovery and Labour Migration
- We urge governments to provide amnesty programs for undocumented migrants in countries of destination in order to allow them to find jobs. As governments open borders and resume recruitment and employment of migrant workers, it will be important to consider the situation of undocumented migrants currently in the country. Fees for amnesty programs should be shouldered by employers hiring workers who are currently in the country. In any event that migrant workers run away from exploitative employers, immigration policies must be flexible and responsive for them to get a new one.
- We urge governments to implement employer pays policy for the recruitment of migrant workers. Migrant workers should not be paying for recruitment fees and related costs. The pandemic has increased the cost of recruitment and if paid by migrants could lead to debt bondage, exploitation, and forced labour.
- Since the access to social security was already recommended in the previous AFML, we call on governments to fast track the social protection coverage and healthcare for all migrants regardless of their status. Social protection for all should be central to any policy or program for economic recovery. Access to health care should include access to mental health services, sexual and reproductive health services and other related services to address communicable diseases including HIV & AIDS and COVID-19. Financial inclusion such as formal remittance channels and access to other financial services, such as credit, insurance or pension savings, investment and entrepreneurship both in the COOs and CODs must be provided and covered.
- Countries of Origin and destination should promote digitalization of information regarding social protection to reduce isolated interventions. This initiative can support more data that will result in an effective way to provide convenient, faster, and more secure service for all migrant workers. Information can be disseminated during pre-departure and post-arrival training and be available in different languages.
- We call on governments to implement and monitor Occupational Safety and Health standards in the workplace as recommended by ASEAN member states in the 8th Personal protective equipment should be provided when necessary to ensure migrants’ safety from COVID-19.
- We urge governments to ensure decent living conditions for all migrant workers living in workers dormitories or accommodations provided employers. It is necessary to ensure that the decent living conditions for domestic workers living in the employer’s home, i.e., respecting their safety and privacy should be in line with existing international labour standards.
- Economic recovery programs should ensure access to justice for migrant workers who are victims of wage theft and all forms of migrant’s rights violations during the pandemic. Adopt legislative, policy and other measures to remove the obstacles for migrants to access justice and effective complaint and redressal mechanisms, including language and information barriers. Migrants in countries of destination including undocumented migrant workers should be allowed to file complaints about non-payment of wages, nonpayment of end of service benefits and other labour disputes. For labour trafficking victims, instead of deporting them, set up mechanisms to accommodate them such as providing skill training and employment.
Sub-theme 2: Rights Protection to Maximize Development Impacts of Labour Migration
- The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Rights protection and access to social protection including access to health care for all is the only way that the world can recover from the health crisis brought about by COVID-19 and future health emergencies/pandemics. Governments need to ensure that migrant workers and members of their families have access to social protection and health care regardless of their status. Hence, bilateral agreements must be strengthened and should include provisions to achieve portability of social protection for migrant workers.
- Increase the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration that uphold the principle of equality and non-discrimination and promote and protect migrant’s human rights. There is a need to focus on root causes of irregular migration rather than conducting enforcement crackdowns on migrants who are victims of circumstances such as these barriers (1) legal restrictions or bans; (2) costs of migration and the inability to finance the process, and (3) visa restrictions or sponsorship schemes.
- Provisions for comprehensive reintegration programs should be made available for all migrant workers. Reintegration programs should be accessible to migrant workers while they are still in countries of destination in order to help them prepare for their return to their home countries.
- Governments of countries of origin should provide emergency assistance and repatriation assistance for migrant workers in times of crisis including the onset of a pandemic. This can be done through collaboration between countries of origin and destination should be ensured for the safe and dignified return of the migrant workers in times of crisis.
- Migrant workers and migrant leaders should be consulted in drafting MOUs, bilateral agreements and other government policies related to migration. Also, bottom-up approach in institutionalizing and cascading migration policies.
- During the recruitment process, we must promote skill matching, reskilling and upskilling, and even career counseling for migrant workers. Further, strengthened recognition of prior learning to assess and certify the migrant workers’ skills earned both in the COOs and CODs as this will improve their employment opportunities. In return, employers can adequately match jobs and employees’ skills.
- Ensure proper screening mechanisms and investigations are implemented in order to identify possible victims of trafficking in persons and persons who are at risk of persecution among the detainees and treat them as people in need of protection, and not offenders by the following initiatives:
- Strengthen labour inspection services to monitor working conditions, ensure compliance with employment contracts, and detect incidences of forced labour practices.
- Provide immigration officials and police with proper training to identify victims of trafficking in persons.
- Responsive policies and laws to migrants who have been trafficked or victimized by protecting their human rights and dignity and deliver an effective, gender-responsive and human rights-based approach to addressing their needs, including identification and referral.