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ASEAN Must Move Swiftly to Implement a Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  April 26, 2012

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ensure it works swiftly to implement a legally binding ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. It also called on the governments of Thailand and Myanmar to improve coordination with each other and civil society organisations to ensure the effective implementation of the 2008 Anti-Trafficking Law and to ensure legal mechanisms are drafted and implemented to ensure the rights of migrant workers are protected.

The issue was brought to the fore again recently with strikes in two large international food processing factories in Thailand, highlighting the lack of social protection mechanisms for migrant workers, who are some of the most vulnerable and exploited members of ASEAN societies.

News reports on the recent strikes at the Phattana seafood plant in Songkhla Province and Vita food factory in Kanchanaburi Province, said the two companies employed a number of undocumented migrant workers who had been victims of human trafficking. It is alleged that the companies confiscated workers’ passports, forcing them into debt bondage and recently withheld food allowances and changed payment terms in an apparent reaction to increased minimum wage guidelines that came into force in Thailand on April 1 2012.

AIPMC recognises efforts by the Royal Thai Government to normalise the large numbers of undocumented workers from Myanmar and other neighbouring countries, which include the opening of five new nationality verification centres this week. While this is a welcome step, it is important that these centres operate effectively, and that the Thai government and Labour Department investigate alleged abuses and exploitation of its migrant workforce.

The issue of lack of protections and abuse of migrant workers and their children has long been one of concern but takes on greater importance ahead of the planned ASEAN Community in 2015, which hopes to see the free movement of labour among ASEAN member states.

AIPMC supports the recent visit of Myanmar Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein to Thailand and the unprecedented interest in the welfare of its overseas workers shown by the government of Myanmar. The governments of Thailand and Myanmar should build on this and work together closely to ensure that the rights of migrant workers are protected and employers who violate Thai labour laws are adequately prosecuted.

AIPMC remains concerned for the welfare of the more than 2 million migrants in Thailand from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos and calls on the Thai government to increase efforts to ensure all workers are properly documented and have access to legal and social protection mechanisms that guard them from violations of Thai labour laws.

Many Burmese escaping poverty and/or persecution at home come to Thailand in search of better-paid work and a better life for them and their families. But in many cases, Burmese migrants, treated as second-class citizens, face human rights abuses from employers and the Thai authorities and continue to live a life governed by fear, violence, abuse, corruption and intimidation.

As Thailand has become more prosperous, fewer Thai people are willing to work in jobs which are commonly known as “dirty, dangerous, and demeaning”, and Burmese nationals have arrived in Thailand in increasing numbers to fill the labour shortage. There are an estimated 2.5 million legal and illegal migrant workers in Thailand. Of those, approximately 80 percent are from Myanmar. Migrant workers form an integral part of the Thai economy and workforce, with hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers employed in various sectors of Thai industry, including fisheries, manufacturing, domestic and construction work, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture.

AIPMC backs recent calls made by the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TFAMW) for the governments of Thailand and Myanmar, as well as ASEAN, to urgently step up efforts to ensure the effective protection of migrant workers’ social, labour, economic and political rights. These calls include the need for ASEAN to urgently adopt a binding Regional Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. Civil society groups should form part of that discussion and AIPMC calls on government to consult and include civil society in the upcoming ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (ALMM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next month.

AIPMC also backs TFAMW’s call for the ASEAN Committee of Migrant Workers (ACMW) to consult and incorporate its recommendations for a comprehensive and binding ASEAN Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in its upcoming drafting sessions.

For further information and interview requests please contact Agung Putri Astrid on +62 81514006416, or by email at info.jakarta@aseanmp.org.

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This post is in: Press Release

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