In a bid to safeguard migrant workers in the ASEAN region, Cambodian labour officials urged increased collaboration among member states and development partners for enhanced awareness of labour inspections. 

The appeal took place at the 12th ASEAN Labour Inspection Conference in Bali, Indonesia, on December 5, hosted by the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower. 

The conference, themed “Protection of Manpower of Migrant Workers through Manpower Supervision”, aimed to strengthen the protection of migrant workers against forced labour, human trafficking, operational safety and health risks and other related issues. 

It provided a platform to share labour inspection practices, discuss system gaps, address emerging challenges and underscore the vital role of governmental and social partners in safeguarding Southeast Asian migrant workers.

Leng Tong, director of the ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Department, said at the conference that ASEAN is dedicated to enhancing working and operational safety and health, along with expediting the labour inspection process, in response to technological advancements. 

“Despite government leaders’ commitments to address migrant workers’ concerns, the issue remains a complex challenge,” he said.

Serving as the chair of the ASEAN Labour Inspection Committee (ALICOM), Tong noted ongoing efforts to improve the protection of migrant workers through increased awareness, information dissemination and maximising the developmental impact of labour inspection. While implementing existing policies, ASEAN strives for inclusivity, practicality and responsiveness in its mechanisms and arrangements.

He advocated for the creation of mechanisms or the enhanced utilisation of existing instruments to assess and monitor ALICOM’s conclusions and recommendations annually, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in enforcement. 

Tong also pressed for heightened engagement with external parties, encouraging member states to initiate or lead project activities in line with ALICOM’s recommendations.

“ASEAN shall broaden cooperation among member states and development partners in awareness raising, encompassing capacity building, expertise exchange and the dissemination of information related to labour inspection,” he said.

Anwar Sanusi, secretary-general of the Indonesian manpower ministry, referenced an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report estimating that migrant workers constitute around 4.7 per cent of the global workforce, totalling approximately 164 million, with women comprising half of this demographic. 

He also cited a World Bank report, revealing that four per cent of the global migrant workforce originates from Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian and Pacific regions together host around 11.6 million migrant workers, constituting about 3.3 per cent of the total regional workforce.

He said that a significant portion of Southeast Asian migrant workers possess lower educational qualifications and are often employed in low-skilled roles within countries like Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. 

Regarding the commitment to safeguard migrant workers, this commitment has been of central importance since the 2nd Asian summit in 2007 in Cebu, the Philippines, marked by the signing of the Cebu Declaration, which aimed to address various issues, including the protection and welfare of migrant workers in the region.

He said that despite established commitments to protect migrant workers within ASEAN nations, the reality reveals persistent complexities. Challenges related to forced labour and unpaid wages have endured over many years.

“Gathering in Bali today signifies ASEAN’s commitment to safeguard migrant workers through labour protection,” he said.

“Focusing on the protection of migrant workers, employment serves the vital function of ensuring their safety through effective labour inspection. This aspect warrants further exploration, as robust labour inspection can mitigate the persistent challenges faced by migrant workers,” Sanusi said.

He urged collaboration to advance the agenda for protecting migrant workers, noting the significance of sharing information about the role of labour inspection in addressing challenges, not only within the region but also globally. 

Sanusi also called on all ASEAN member states to persist in their efforts to ensure the protection of migrant workers.

“Collaboration is essential given the diverse approaches to protecting migrant workers among ASEAN member states,” he said.