Key issues during, beyond pandemic to protect migrants’ rights

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Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

The Task Force on Asean Migrant Workers (TFAMW) welcomes Asean labour ministers’ joint statement on the nine-action response to provide support for the livelihood and health of all workers, including migrant workers in the region.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, Asean member states face the challenge for the health and social care of migrant workers. Could Asean implement activities, based on labour rights and gender perspective, to prevent exploitation of migrant workers, and effectively implement social protection for all migrant workers?

Migrant workers play a key role in Asean’s economic development. But despite their importance, many lack social protection coverage such as unemployment support, retirement funds, accidental coverage, sufficient paid leave and family care.

The Asean Community has yet to achieve fair treatment and effective protection of migrant workers from abuse, exploitation and violence. There is an absence of coordinated social protection, making migrant workers vulnerable to discrimination in laws and practices of both countries of origin and destination.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the existing discrimination, inequality in access to decent work, healthcare, and better job opportunities. Asean’s vulnerable people, migrant workers, are at higher risk of contracting Covid-19, as they are on the front lines, workers in low-wage, high-contact, essential jobs in sectors such as healthcare, retail, and government services. In addition, they may be less likely to have access to medical testing.

Asean migrant workers may suffer for the worse as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. If the Asean governments had deployed more effective, timely, and coordinated response to contain the pandemic, as well as protecting the rights of migrant workers and their families – the impact on migrant workers would have been lower! Even before Covid-19, many migrant workers were already facing a number of challenges including labour and human rights abuses.

READ MORE:  Compassion through the crisis

The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues. Most Asean migrant workers are employed in low and semi-skilled work; many women migrant workers are in domestic work, low-wage jobs, to support their families. The pandemic has forced many migrant workers to return home with no prospect of finding decent jobs back in their home countries.

More than 60% of the workers in South East Asia are already working in the informal sector without any job security, healthcare and social protection. Migrant workers families will be hit hard as many depended solely on remittances. With limited or no income, they slide back into poverty without any social protection.

Some Asean member states have introduced economic stimulus plans and workplace measures to protect the health and the income of workers during pandemic. The key is effective implementation of these measures. However, the problem often in Asean is the gap between the agreements and the actual implementation.

Governments from both sending and receiving countries need to cooperate effectively to ensure the rights of migrant workers. But undocumented migrant workers are left out with little or no protection at all. In South East Asia, there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers – with very low wage and bad working conditions – with no social protection.

The TFAMW welcomes the Asean labour ministers’ joint statement on the nine-action response to the impact of Covid-19, without discrimination, to provide support for the livelihood and health of all workers, including migrant workers, to facilitate access to essential health care services.

READ MORE:  Closing the inequality gap in migration

In solidarity, Asean member states will support migrant workers affected by the pandemic in each other’s country or in third countries to effectively implement occupational safety and health standards and social protection systems.

Asean labour ministers will need to enhance cooperation with tripartite partners, civil society, and international organisations to continue knowledge-sharing and best practices and lessons learnt on measures and action taken to help at-risk workers.

The TFAMW encourages civil society organisations to continue to engage the ACMW and to help to find answers to challenges faced by migrant workers during the pandemic and beyond to effectively implement the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Worker.

Civil society organisations are encouraged to refer to the following civil society proposals:

The 2009 Civil Society Proposal: Asean Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – provides relevant recommendations on migrant workers’ health (No 49 to 50) and migrant worker accommodation and living conditions (No. 52 to 54)

The “2018 Civil Society Proposal to Develop the ASEAN Consensus Plan of Action (PoA) at Regional and National Levels” – the outcome document of the regional civil society consultation on the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of the Migrant Workers, Bangkok, Thailand, 3-4 May 2018

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