The rapid growth and development of the ASEAN region in the last two decades has increased cross-border labour mobility within the region as well as influx of migrant workers from the South Asian region. The cross-border labour movements in the ASEAN region is observed to be mostly in low-skilled sectors such as construction, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and domestic work including other service work which, in most cases, receive less labour protections rendering them vulnerable to exploitation due to its temporary nature.
In 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025 was adopted. The economic integration means free flow of goods, services, investment capital and skilled labour in the region in particularly the movement of professionals in eight occupations- engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism, surveying and accounting. This is currently being implemented by ASEAN member states through the Mutual Recognition Arrangements which aims to enhance cooperation on the recognition of qualifications of skilled migrant workers.
The 31st ASEAN Summit under the Chairmanship of the Philippines saw the adoption by the Member States of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in November 2017, which took 10 years in the making following the Cebu Declaration in 2007 which was also adopted in the Philippines. The ASEAN Consensus on Migration coupled with its non‐legally binding nature, exclusion of non‐ASEAN migrant workers and many in irregular situations and lack of political will among ASEAN Member States to immediately adopt an operational framework to guide the implementation of the Cebu Declaration was a disappointment for civil society and trade unions considering the decade‐long delay of a supposed framework of instrument.
Given the current migration situation in the ASEAN region, among the key challenges faced by migrants is in the recruitment process. This was partially addressed by the ASEAN Consensus on Migration but it still falls short of international human and labour rights standards. There have been numerous initiatives at the global and regional levels to address issues in the recruitment process.
In line withe the above trends, Migrant Forum in Asia in collaboration with its member, Transient Workers Count Too organized a regional consultation on Strengthening Engagement withe ASEAN processes and Mainstreaming Fair Recruitment on 11-13 June 2018. The program was organized back to back with the 2018 Global Forum On Responsible Recruitment and Employment.
The program aimed to further the capacity to effectively engage ASEAN Member States in advancing migrants rights including addressing recruitment issues. Specifically, it aims to:
• Provide recommendations to the Plan of Action on the ASEAN Consensus on Migration;
• Identify/Develop action plan in engaging the ASEAN process with linkages to other processes such as Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
• Focusing on recruitment issues as a point of advocacy in relation to the ASEAN Process and other processes
The program was held in Singapore with 20 participants from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The participants looked into recommendations for the Plan of the action for the ASEAN Consensus on Migration which will be finalized in uly 2018. Participants as well discussed strategies for engaging national governments in line with putting forward recommendations for the plan of action as well as how to link ASEAN advocacy to the global migrants rights agenda such as the Global Compact for Migration and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Recruitment.
The participants as well discussed initiatives on fair recruitment including among them the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM’s) IRIS initiative, a social compliance scheme that is designed to promote ethical international recruitment. It works by defining and setting benchmarks for ethical recruitment (the IRIS Standard), and through establishing a voluntary certification scheme for ethical labour recruiters, and a compliance and monitoring mechanism. IRIS is a due diligence tool for businesses, governments and workers.
Another initiative discussed during the program was the International Labor Organization’s Fair Recruitment Initiative. Part of this is ILO’s Migrant Recruitment Advisor (MRA) developed together with the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC). The MRA is a Recruitment Advisor platform with the aim to empower and protect workers as well as to promote their trade unions’ rights, to share their recruitment experience, and to promote those recruiters that follow a fair recruitment process based on ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment. In terms of complaint mechanism for the migrant workers on the MRA, ILO and MRA are working with MFA through their Migrants’ Rights Violation Reporting System (MRVRS) or Hamsa. This is an online documentation system used by MFA members and partners for a more systematic method of storing and managing information of cases of migrant workers, which can be used for advocacy. Through its evolution, it is now partly a complaints mechanism for migrant workers in distress and/or who have experienced different types of human rights violations.
As the program was held back to back with the 2018 Global Forum On Responsible Recruitment and Employment, a number of partners were able to attend the Forum. A de-brief with other partners was held at the end of the day to update on the discussions and deliberations in the Forum.
The partners were also able to have a dialogue with representatives of the private sector who were attending the Global Forum. The dialogue included discussions on addressing issues in line with recruitment fees and transitioning to employer pays model for recruitment fees. Partners learned about existing fair recruitment initiatives of the private sector at the same time were able to put forward recommendations to address abuse in the recruitment process.