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Malaysia – Who is responsible for protecting migrant workers?

17 December 2013

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that, globally, there are 214 million migrant workers; 10.2 million of whom reside in south-east Asia, according to the IOM 2010 analysis, reports Linda Lumayag, lecturer at the University of Malaya for themalaysianinsider.com.

Migrant workers play an important role in the continued economic growth of south-east Asia, however, there seems to be scant understanding of the status of migrant workers and the social protections that accompany their role, according to Ms Lumayag.

At the Asean level, there are existing declarations, regulations, policy frameworks, and agreements aimed at protecting the livelihood, security, and welfare of migrant workers.

The Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrants (DPPRM)(2007); the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Labour Migration; the Asean Charter (2008), and the Asean Economic Community Blueprint are just samples of the many regional instruments that can be made available to sustain a viable sharing of migrant labour in south-east Asia.

These regional instruments are important and relevant in as much as a legal framework must be in place to monitor, facilitate, negotiate, and enforce what has been duly agreed upon by the member nations. However, there are different approaches towards governance, human rights, democracy, trade, and investments and, specifically, on labour migration.

Aside from the regional legal framework, bilateral agreements between the labour-sending and labour-receiving countries do exist, such that, ideally, both the responsibilities and welfare of migrant workers and employers are protected.

Ms Lumayag concludes that, there is no doubt the existence of various international and regional legislations, and protocol instruments pertaining to the social protection of migrant workers is a proactive move, especially given the increasing mobility of people who seek for work beyond their national borders.

Political sincerity, however, depends upon the willingness of both the sending and receiving countries’ leaderships to discipline anyone that defies the letter and spirit of these instruments beyond political expediency. It also means a political leadership that accepts the indispensable role of migrant workers in the overall development agenda of the region secures a dignified future of these workers.

In addition, when legislations fail to comprehensively address the generic and specific issues that entail migration; such as in the case of undocumented workers and workers who are trafficked, then these protection mechanisms are deemed fruitless, or simply not attuned to the subjective and objective changing conditions of migrants in destination countries.

South-east Asian nations themselves lead the way in sending their citizens throughout the region. However, the 10 Asean nation-states must be made aware that their primary responsibility in the migration-for-work enterprise is to ensure that the interests of their neighbours’ citizens will at least be given a place in the regional agenda.

Social protection mechanisms are rendered ineffective when the very subject of protection become further disenfranchised and marginalised despite regional collaborative partnerships. If this continues, member nations need to go back to the drawing board and chart a more humane and effective policy where migrant workers’ dignity and respect are simply not based on hollow rhetoric.

To read the full article from Linda Lumayag, please click here

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