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Rights of Migrant Workers Safeguarded by ‘ASEAN’ Consensus

The 31st ASEAN Summit at Manila in Philippines ended up gifting, “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” on 14 November 2017 as the Heads of States/Governments signed a historic milestone, in the year 2017 that marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and the tenth year since the adoption of the Cebu Declaration. The signing of this ASEAN Consensus shows the political will and strong commitment of ASEAN Leaders to safeguard the rights of migrant workers who have contributed to the growth and development in the region.

Cebu Declaration of 13 January 2007, on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, at Cebu in Manila, believed that at the core of ASEAN’s response to the increasing number of regional challenges must be its efforts to build, by 2015 along the lines of ASEAN Vision 2020, a strong ASEAN Community premised on a closely integrated, dynamic and vibrant regional economy, deeper political and security cooperation and stronger socio-cultural linkages.

President of the Philippines and Chair of ASEAN for 2017 Rodrigo Duterte highlighted at the opening ceremonies of the 31st Summit that “the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers is a landmark document that reflects our promise to strengthen social protection, access to justice, humane and fair treatment, and access to health services of our region’s migrant workers.”

The ASEAN Consensus stipulates the general principles, fundamental rights of migrant workers and members of their families, specific rights of migrant workers, obligations and commitments of ASEAN Member States. It aims to establish a framework for closer cooperation among member states on addressing migrant workers’ issues in the region. While it is non-legally binding, the ASEAN Consensus is considered a living and evolving document.

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh called for support from all stakeholders to the meaningful implementation of this landmark Consensus by ASEAN Member States: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Following the signing of the ASEAN Consensus, an action plan will be developed by the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers.

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar had earlier said that the signing of the consensus would be “a centrepiece of the Philippine chairmanship” of ASEAN, as this year “implements the commitments” contained in the 2007 declaration. The consensus document includes the following provisions:

  • Fair treatment of migrant workers with respect to gender and nationality
  • Visitation rights by family members
  • Prohibition against confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees
  • Protection against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Regulation of recruiters for better protection of workers
  • Right to fair and appropriate remuneration benefits and their right to join trade unions and association

On the nature of the document, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said: “We do not just mention whether it is legally, morally binding. We just assume that when you enter into an agreement, you have a commitment and therefore, you have obligation.”

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