Ensuring migrants access Decent Work

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Ensuring migrants access Decent Work

Last night's BBC News at Ten with John Simpson showed harrowing images of Asian migrant workers in Dubai, and the dire living and working conditions that they find themselves in. The footage was provided by Anti-Slavery International.

Over the past year, national union centres across Asia have been working with the International Trade Union Confederation and the TUC to support migrant workers, workers who move from their home country to another country to find work. While some migrant workers enjoy their time working overseas, there are many others who are forced to travel abroad to find work because of poverty or mass unemployment at home, who leave behind family and loved ones, and who have to place themselves at the mercy of middle-men and unscrupulous employers who abuse or exploit them. One year into this project, the impacts of the project activities to support migrant workers are becoming clear.

There are few Gulf states where migrant workers are able to join trade unions; Bahrain is one of them and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) has been working with the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in Kerala state to support migrant Keralans working in Bahrain. The GFBTU is now recruiting migrant workers into both construction and cleaning unions. At the workplace level, Bahraini and migrant workers collaborate together on committees to enhance the rights of all workers.

Meanwhile, the INTUC is finalising negotiations with several recruitment agencies (which recruit migrant workers for employers) and it reports that agreements on new standards should be signed next week. The INTUC in Kerala has trained 481 workers across 13 districts on their labour rights before their departure to Bahrain to take up work.

Another major flow of migrant workers in Asia takes place between Indonesia (sending country) and Malaysia (a destination country), symbolised by the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Unions (KSBSI) and Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) in August 2010.

In Indonesia, 100 workers have received pre-departure training before they leave for Malaysia which will better equip them about their social and labour rights when they arrive. The KSBSI organised a meeting in Johor, Malaysia to meet with Indonesian migrant workers to better assess their situation and to organise them into a union. They have now established a KSBSI migrant support group in the area.

Meanwhile, the MTUC and KSBSI have printed migrant worker 'passports' or brochures outlining their rights and useful contacts for assistance when they reach their destination; the Indonesian Embassy directly distributes the MTUC 'passport' to Indonesian workers when they arrive at Kuala Lumpur airport.

Living conditions of migrant workers in Malaysia

Meanwhile, the MTUC has continued to work closely with the Indonesian Embassy and with KSBSI to support domestic Indonesian workers. MTUC has negotiated for better conditions for domestic workers to become part of the bilateral agreement between the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia which now specifies the right to one paid day off per week and for workers to be able to retain their passports (and not have to surrender them to their employers). The fees absorbed by recruitment agents or 'middle men' are to be lowered and salaries guaranteed. The MTUC secretary general has been appointed to the Task Force on Migrant workers organised by the Ministry of Human Resources.

MTUC has organised trainings in five districts on migrant worker rights for Vietnamese workers in the plantation sector and the MTUC has also lobbied the Embassies of Philippines, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

MTUC spends a lot of its project resources on direct assistance to abused migrant workers. From January to August 2010, they report 3,167 cases that were handled by MTUC. Some of these cases involve severe abuse of vulnerable migrant workers.

18 December was International Migrants' Day and the INTUC organised a press conference with considerable media attention to promote ILO and UN Conventions which govern the rights of migrants workers while, the KSBSI in Indonesia, organised a social celebration with migrant workers.

On the same day, the ITUC published a review of trade union activism and organisation to support migrant workers across Asia. This features further case studies of workers in countries including: Bahrain, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nepal.

Vicky Cann

[email protected]

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