Critics attack ASEAN deal to protect migrant workers

Consensus signed at recent summit lacks teeth, fails to comply with international human rights law, they say
Critics attack ASEAN deal to protect migrant workers

Women shout slogans during a rally in Jakarta to demand the Indonesian government to protect overseas maids and migrant workers from abuse, in this file photo. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Lawmakers and rights groups in Indonesia have criticized a new ASEAN agreement on migrant workers, saying it fails to provide them with adequate protection.

The ASEAN Consensus on the Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was signed earlier this month during an ASEAN Summit in Manila and is aimed at ensuring fair treatment of migrant workers, and to protect them from abuse, exploitation and violence.

However, the agreement does not go far enough, as more robust protection is needed, according the Jakarta-based ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

It fails to meet the basic criteria of a legally-binding document that would provide genuine protection in accordance with international human rights law, the group said.

“Migrant workers are essential to the development of the ASEAN Community. In order to demonstrate a genuine commitment to safeguarding their rights, ASEAN should pursue the development and implementation of a region-wide action plan, including a handbook on common standards,” said Kasit Piromya, an APHR board member.

Daniel Awigra, program manager at the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) said the consensus is driven by the interests of each member state, not according to ASEAN's “people centered and people oriented” vision.

"The drafting process was done in private over eight years and excludes migrant workers as the primary stakeholders,” he told on Nov.27.

Enny Rofiatul, a lawyer at Jakarta Legal Aid who often takes up migrant worker cases said ASEAN member states should look to establish regional court to settle abuses against migrant workers.

“"Many cases of abuse against Indonesian migrant workers have been reported in Malaysia, but no settlement has been made or little justice has been receive under the laws of that country,” she said.

“Unless there is a regional court, it is impossible to solve cross-border cases,” she said.

Lucia Dos Santos, a former migrant worker from Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province said such a court might have deterred her employer from abusing her.  

Dos Santos said her employer in Malaysia blinded her during a physical assault. After returning home in 2011 she said she sought help from local police, but they told her they could not do so because the crime was committed outside their jurisdiction.

“Without a regional law, it is hard to bring perpetrators in other countries to justice,” she said.

Wahyu Susilo, a Catholic activist and executive director of Migrant Care, said ASEAN should also establish a special commission for the protection of migrant workers.

"I hope the consensus [signed this month] is only the first step in ensuring an optimal protection mechanism," Susilo said.

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According to the International Labour Organization, there are an estimated 10 million international migrants currently working and living in ASEAN, of which about 6.7 million come from the region, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Reports of abuse are common especially among domestic workers, while Thailand has faced international criticism over its treatment of migrant workers employed in its fisheries industry.


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