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Asia - Asean to limit free flow of labour in member countries

24 December 2013

The Asean Economic Community (AEC) will not allow the free flow of labour, but it will allow the goods, services and the elimination or reduction of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade and thrive among the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean).

“The AEC will not open national borders to facilitate the free flow of labour but will instead focus on free entry of professionals,” CIMB Asean Research Institute (CARI) Prof Dr Jörn Dosch said in an email response to The Malaysian Reserve.

Dosch, who is a Senior Fellow with CARI, said the provision in the AEC blueprint simply stipulates the member countries will facilitate the issuance of visas and employment passes for professionals and skilled labour, and it does not mention the movement of labour beyond national borders.

To achieve the limited cross-border flow of labour in the region, mutual recognition arrangements are in place, or are being negotiated for skilled professionals, to cover eight professions.

“This means that highly trained and specialised professionals will find it easier to work in other Asean countries,” Dosch said.

Among the professionals who will be given almost immediate access to jobs within the Asean region are doctors of medicine, dentists, nurses, engineers, architects, accountants, surveyors and tourism professionals.

“However, the AEC does not cover the crucial issues of non-skilled and illegal migration which is much more pressing than the free flow of skilled labour,” Dosch said.

When asked to explain the issues of human rights, workers rights and migratory movements under the AEC, Dosch said these issues were not dealt with during the rounds of talks.

“Human rights, workers’ rights and salaries are not addressed under the AEC but partly covered by the other two community blueprints: political-security and sociocultural,” the professor said.

These are separate debates which are not really linked and connected with each other, Dosch, who is leading the research project on the AEC said.

“Some progress on human rights has been made following the agreement on the Asean Human Rights Charter last year but I don’t expect Asean to achieve consensus on workers' rights (I don’t think this is even on the agenda),” he said.

Besides the AEC, the Asean also has the Triangle project, which is designed to strengthen regional policies on the governance of labour migration between the member states. The project enhances the capacity of governments, workers’ and employers’ organisations to help reduce labour exploitation and inequalities of women and men migrants from Asean.

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