Vientiane, Lao PDR—Nine labour ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), assembled in this capital city of land-locked Lao People’s Democratic Republic for their 24th biennial meeting, unanimously adopted the proposal of the Philippines to finalize by September 2016, at the earliest, or by April 2017, at the latest, the draft ASEAN instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.
“The ASEAN labor ministers noted the urgency to conclude the draft ASEAN instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers and agreed to finalize it by September 2016 or at the latest by April 2017,” said Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz in a dispatch to Manila.
“This is a breakthrough in the negotiations for the instrument, more than 85 percent of which is already finished,” Baldoz added.
At the meeting, Baldoz said the ASEAN labor ministers tasked the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW), the subsidiary body responsible for drafting the instrument, and another subsidiary body, the Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM), to continue the negotiations on the instrument towards its finalization in September 2016 when the ASEAN Leaders meet in Vientiane, or April 2017 when the Philippines assumes the chairmanship of the ASEAN.
In the making for nine years since the issuance of the ASEAN’s Cebu Declaration, negotiations on the instrument has been deadlocked on four principle issues—the legal nature of the document, whether it is to be binding or not binding, and on the inclusion of migrants’ families and undocumented workers.
The 24th ALMM deliberated on the instrument because the Senior Labor Officials Meeting, conducted two days earlier also in Vientiane, decided to seek the guidance of the labor ministers on how to proceed to conclude an agreement.
In her remarks during the discussion, Secretary Baldoz said the Philippines has always been at the forefront of protection and promotion of rights of migrant workers and recalled that it was in Cebu City, during the ASEAN chairmanship of the Philippines, when the Declaration to Protect and Promote the Rights of Migrant Workers was adopted by the ASEAN Leaders.
“The very first ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour, which endorsed the formation of a team to draft the Instrument to implement the Cebu Declaration, was held in Manila. It was also during the 4th ACMW-Drafting Team meeting in Manila where the “phased-in approach” was adopted, which eventually brought forth the 85 percent accomplishment of the contents of the instrument,” she said to emphasize its urgency and importance.
To demonstrate “the Philippines’ strong resolve and continued willingness to cooperate in the spirit of consensus-building and understanding toward the finalization of the instrument and to contribute to ASEAN’s further growth as a sharing and caring ASEAN community”, Baldoz shared the Philippines’ well-documented views with respect to pending issues in the draft Instrument.
On the principle issues, she said the Philippines has expressed a level of openness to a non-legally binding instrument, provided the following four parameters would be present: (a) the immediate development of an action plan, with timelines to implement the Instrument; (b) negotiation of bilateral labor agreements between ASEAN Member States; (c) sharing and documentation of best practices; and (d) designation of national focal points on Instrument implementation in every AMS.
“With respect to family members of migrant workers already residing with them, we have joined eight AMS in a compromise solution by agreeing to re-state Article 3 of the Cebu Declaration in Chapter VII of the draft instrument, on “Commitments by ASEAN Member States”. The article provides that “receiving states and sending states shall take account of the fundamental rights and dignity of migrant workers and family members already residing with them without undermining the application by the receiving states of their laws, regulations, and policies.”
On the other instance, nine AMS also agreed to delete from the draft instrument five provisions containing the term, “family members”, if the re-statement or re-iteration of Article 3 of the Cebu Declaration stays as agreed. These five provisions are Article 14 (c) in the General Principles on rights as embodied in ratified treaties; Article 14 (d) in the General Principles on fundamental rights of migrant workers; Article 22 on the right to hold passports and government-issued documents; Article 25 on freedom of movement; and Article 43 on respect of fundamental rights by receiving states.
With regard to undocumented migrant workers, the Philippines have also joined seven AMS in an agreement to replace a chapter in the draft instrument with a provision under Chapter VII, “Commitments by ASEAN Member States”, directing AMS to “Take measures to prevent and curb the flow of undocumented migrant workers and explore cooperation and coordination among AMS in providing assistance to those who are in need of protection, subject to prevailing national laws, regulations, and policies of AMS.”
“The Philippines remains steadfast in finding ways forward to bring us to the finalization of the instrument,” said Baldoz, noting that other related developments at the November 2015 ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur should have had a positive impact on the task of finalizing the Instrument.
These developments are the adoption by ASEAN Leaders of a Regional Framework and Action to Plan to Implement the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection and Enhancing Cooperation to address the needs and interests, as well as provide equal opportunities and raise the quality of life and standard of living, of women, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities in the ASEAN; the signing of the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, or the ACTIP; and the adoption by the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC) of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Irregular Movement of Persons in Southeast Asia.
She expressed confidence that the ACMW and the SLOM will be able to achieve the goal within the timeframe set by the labour ministers. “This would be a very significant way to mark the 10th year of the Cebu Declaration and, more importantly, the 50th year of our sharing and caring ASEAN Community,” she said.
Attending the 24th ALMM, aside from Baldoz, are H.E. Pehin Abu Bakar Apong, Minister of Home Affairs, Brunei Darussalam; H.E. Mam Vanna, Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, Cambodia; H.E. Irmawan Emir Wisnadar, Ambassador, Embassy of Indonesia to Lao PDR, Indonesia; H.E. Dr. Khampheng Saysompheng, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Lao PDR; H.E. YB Dato’ Sri Richard Riot Jaem, Minister of Human Resources, Malaysia; H.E. Thein Swe, Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population, Republic of the Union of Myanmar; H.E. Sam Tan, Minister of State for Manpower, Singapore; H.E. General Sirichai Distakul, Minister of Labour, Thailand; H.E. Dao Ngoc Dung, Minister of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs; and H.E. Vongthep Artakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary-General of the ASEAN for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.