LABOR Secretary Silvestre Bello III gave assurances the safety and welfare of migrant workers would be protected under the labor agreement signed by Asean leaders in their just concluded Summit which would allow migrant workers to join unions and to prohibit employers from confiscating their passports.
The Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Worker will benefit more than 800,000 Filipino migrant workers working in Asean countries, he said.
Before, workers were not allowed to form unions while it became a practice for many foreign employers to confiscate their passports which was a form of “blackmail.”
However, various labor groups noted the accord was not legally binding because several Asean labor ministers did not use the terms “legally-binding” and “morally-binding” in the consensus.
While some sectors lauded the accord, labor groups view the consensus as simply an expression of intention as any of the Asean’s 10 member states can opt out of it because of its non legally-binding nature.
“This agreement will definitely benefit our OFWs. Truly, there is a need to do so especially since we are in an era where our countrymen have increasingly chosen to work abroad,” said Senator Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee.
He said the agreement would complement and strengthen pending bills in the Senate to improve the benefits and protection of our OFWs.
The Asean countries that do not want the accord to have a legally-binding effect are Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Brunei.
“But Asean member countries will still heed its provisions, which include, among others, allowing migrant workers to join unions and prohibiting employers from confiscating their workers’ passports,” Bello said.
In an interview, Bello said the Asean leaders would not sign the accord for the sake of signing, but would sign it with the intention to comply with the provision.
The Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers can be a way of forging bilateral agreements between each Asean nation to give the accord more teeth, he said.
“When you sign that agreement and it involves the promotion of the welfare and the protection of the OFWs or the migrant workers, you will have every reason to count on a bilateral agreement between the countries,” Bello said.
He said one such example was the creation of a separate department for migrant workers which would cater to all their concerns and thereby reduce or eliminate bureaucracy in OFW assistance.
“With the recently signed Asean concensus, we are confident that our efforts and advocacies in the legislative department would be given adequate attention for the sake of providing sustainable future for our citizens here and abroad,” he said.
Senator Win Gatchalian also hailed the adoption of this document which he hoped would make a meaningful impact on the welfare of migrant workers scattered throughout the region.
He pointed out the adoption of this document during the country’s chairmanship of the regional bloc was made even more significant by the economic and social importance of overseas Filipino workers in Philippine society.
He estimated that as many as 500,000 Filipino migrant workers were dispersed throughout Southeast Asia.
“Overseas Filipino workers are considered modern-day Filipino heroes, and rightfully so. They sacrifice so much to provide better lives for their families here at home,” said Gatchalian.
According to the senator, he is proud that the Philippines was able to steer Asean toward an agreement which will further promote and defend the rights of our OFW heroes, no matter where they are stationed within the region.
After a decade, the Asean has made progress in ensuring the protection of migrant workers.
Southeast Asian leaders closed their 31st Asean Summit, which coincides with the golden anniversary of the community, by signing the said document on Nov. 14.
President Rodrigo Duterte, representing the Philippines as Asean chair, presented the signed document to Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh. This consensus is a followup document to the “ Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” adopted in January 2007 in Cebu.
The consensus includes the following provisions Fair treatment of migrant workers with respect to gender and nationality, Visitation rights by family members, Prohibition against confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees, Protection against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, Regulation of recruiters for better protection of workers and right to fair and appropriate remuneration benefits and their right to join trade unions and association.
It also serves as a commitment by Asean member-states to formulate a plan of action to implement the rights specified. This plan will be made during next year’s meetings under the chairmanship of Singapore.
The creation of the consensus took more than 10 years because parties could not agree on the legal nature of the document, the protection of undocumented workers and the coverage of migrant workers’ families.
Philippines and Indonesia, both source countries, wanted a legally-binding framework.
Singapore and Malaysia only wanted the document to be a guide to avoid the increase in the number of undocumented migrants.
Both countries are migration hubs for workers.