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Asean states agree to protect migrant rights

Asean leaders pose for a photograph after signing the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Workers on Tuesday in Manila.
Asean leaders pose for a photograph after signing the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Workers on Tuesday in Manila. Facebook

Asean states agree to protect migrant rights

ASEAN member states have signed an agreement on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers – more than a decade after originally pledging to do so.

The agreement includes fair pay protections and will require the 10 member states to organise predeparture training for all migrant workers.

It also requires states that send migrant workers abroad to “set reasonable, transparent, and standardized fees for passport issuance”, and to “take necessary actions to prohibit overcharging of placement or recruitment fees”.

While Cambodia in principle has set passport prices, many migrant workers have complained about exorbitant fees when applying for travel documents with agencies.

The Asean member states agreed in 2007 to draft protections for workers and have been criticised over the last decade for failing to do so.

If the guidelines are implemented, millions of Cambodian workers – mostly in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea – stand to benefit.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour welcomed the new framework.

“We do hope that this tool will be able to protect all the migrant workers across Asean,” he said. “Each member state needs to take into account this protocol into their own laws, in order to ensure that domestic law of each member state complies with the principle of the Asean migration protection protocol.”

However, Mom Sokchar, programme manager at Legal Support for Children and Women, expressed concern by email that the agreement might lack teeth. “The implementation will still be subject to the respective laws of Asean Members States . . . There is a need to push for . . . [member states] to come up with a clear [commitment] to implement this,” he said.

He also criticised the fact that the agreement excluded undocumented workers from protection, unless they became undocumented “through no fault of their own”. Experts estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand alone.

Adrian Pereira, coordinator of the North-South Initiative in Malaysia, which works with migrants, said the agreement was “a start” but was too vague and not inclusive enough.

However, he said some concrete rights were given to workers, such as the right to join unions and associations.

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