BY JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
MAKATI CITY—LESS protected under an international convention, domestic helpers and low-skilled temporary migrant workers still couldn’t find solace within a pact among Asean countries, analysts pointed out recently.
Advocates say this omission by member-countries in a non-binding declaration on migrant workers’ protection by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could push millions of transient workers into accepting more dirty and demeaning jobs and weak bargaining positions.
What has prevailed in bilateral or multilateral arrangements on migrant workers is the movement of business and skilled people not on semi-skilled and unskilled workers, says Chia Siow Yue of the Singapore-headquartered East Asian Development Network (EADN).
Chia was recently in the country to speak on the “Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion on the Rights of Migrant Workers” that was forged in the country two months ago.
Her insights come as a second-thought on a pact that received high praises even from militant migrant advocates’ groups like the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA).
“It (Asean declaration) is good news for migrant workers,” MFA’s William Gois said in a separate forum.
Gois said the Philippines capitalized on its hosting of the Asean summit to move this non-binding declaration forward.
This is a big first step for “Asean governments to recognize the contributions of migrant workers,” he added.
Gois echoes analysts’ views that temporary migrant workers remain the source of many of the Asean member-countries’ economic strength in the past five years.
The Philippines, for one, has weathered one financial crisis after another because of billions of overseas Filipinos’s dollar remittances.
International Monetary Fund data on the balance of payments has cited the Philippines as Asean’s leading recipient of remittances from 380,080 temporary contract workers.
Data from 1998 to 2005 by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration bared that the Philippines has deployed some 196,900 temporary contract workers to Singapore, 54,914 to Malaysia, 96,748 to Brunei, 14,051 to Indonesia, 12,921 to Thailand, and 5,446 to Vietnam.
Still, Gois personally thinks the declaration “is only for a select group of workers, and eases out low-skilled migrant workers”.
“Unskilled labor is being hired as cheap labor in Asean’s competitive industries. Negotiators in trade talks seem blind to the plight of unskilled workers,” he added.
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