ASEAN trade unionists demand negotiating status on migrant workers

The ASEAN Trade Union Council has called upon ASEAN to recognised and accredit it "as a dialogue partner in ASEAN related processes, programs and activities". The ATUC is an apex body of 18 national trade unions in nine ASEAN states (excepting Brunei) and representing five million members.

The Philippines-based organisation was formed in 1994 and collaborates with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Trade Union Confederation-Asia Pacific (ITUC-AP).

On 8 July, representatives of the three organisations met in Manila to discuss challenges in labour migration in ASEAN - "four years after the adoption of the historic 'ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers' (January 2007), followed by the establishment of the 'Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers' (July 2007), and the 'The ASEAN Charter' (November 2007), which provides for the creation of a human rights body and the observance of basic freedoms of the people, including those of migrant workers."

At the meeting, the ATUC adopted a Trade Union Statement (pdf) to the 4th ASEAN Forum On Migrant Labor to be held in Indonesia.

The statement recognises that the ASEAN labour market is characterised by strong flows [13.5 million] of ASEAN migrant workers globally [estimated at 5 million internally], diverse in "nationality composition and skills" and increasingly female (quoting ESCAP 2009 that women constitute majority of the “official labour outflows” – 83% of migrants from Indonesia and 60% from the Philippines and if “irregular migrants” are factored in majority of migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam are female migrants).

The trade unionists believe that, despite the existence ASEAN decisions such as the ASEAN Declaration and ASEAN Charter, "a big number of migrant workers continue to be victims of abuse, exploitation and conflict within the region not to mention the challenges faced by 'irregular' or 'undocumented' workers which does not bode well with the ASEAN’s vision of 'a caring and sharing community'" and point out "the continued inaction on the development of an 'ASEAN Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers’ Rights' which is one of the important provisions of the Declaration."

They are also "appalled at the continuing non-participation of trade unions in ASEAN mechanisms and processes" and call for "meaningful participation of trade unions, particularly ATUC, in the development of an ASEAN instrument on migration."

Among the related proposals the ATUC has delivered to the ASEAN Secretariat are an ASEAN Tripartite Mechanism for the preparation and development of the ASEAN Instrument on Migrant Workers; the ratification by the ASEAN governments of all the core ILO Conventions as well as migration-related Conventions and Recommendations, including ILO Convention 189; an ASEAN data base on migration linked by internet with the different ASEAN labour ministries and the public; and an “ASEAN Hotline” on Migrant Workers in conjunction with the ASEAN Declaration and the Foreign Ministers’ Guidelines on Assistance to ASEAN nationals in crisis situations.

In May 2009, the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers proposed an 'ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Worker's to the ASEAN Senior Labor Officials Meeting in Vientiane, Laos.

The TF-AMW comprises a different grouping of trade unions, alongside government representatives, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC), the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASEAN-CCI), human rights and migrant rights non-governmental organisations and migrant worker associations.

A meeting of representatives of Global Union Federation-affiliated trade unions, in Bogor, Indonesia, in February 2009, had backed the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers and the establishment of the ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC) and acknowledged the support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) for the initiatives.