Chiang Mai, Thailand/Penang, Malaysia
On the World Day for Decent Work, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) stands in solidarity with all workers, especially migrants, and demands decent work, living wage, social protection and a safe workplace without violence and harassment for all workers.
Decent work is not an abstract term – it represents workers’ aspirations on opportunities for work that fulfills human rights, fundamental freedom, dignity and equality. The Decent work agenda, initiated by the International Labour Organization (ILO), is a fundamental human right for all, including migrants and women, as stated in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 23), to freely chosen employment, the recognition of fundamental rights at work, an income to enable people to meet their needs and responsibilities, social protection for workers and their families and social dialogue.
However, the reality of workers falls far short of these human rights standards. Migrants, especially women migrants, disproportionately take up precarious and vulnerable jobs with low and irregular pay, excessively long hours of work, lack of rest periods, and exclusion from social protection. Very often, women migrants endure discrimination, inhumane working conditions, and in some cases, physical and sexual abuse and human trafficking.
Women account for nearly 50 percent of all migrants globally, fill in the increasing demands of care work, take up the role of domestic workers, service and care workers, health workers, etc. Women’s labour is systematically undervalued and underpaid. In many countries in Asia and the Pacific, migrant domestic workers are not recognised as workers, excluding them from legal protection or access to justice.
The recent COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated these structural and systemic inequalities. At the same time, discrimination and xenophobia against migrants has become more intense. The pandemic has disproportionately affected the migrant workers – worsening working conditions, wrongful termination, poor living conditions without enough food and basic necessities, limited access to medical services, on-going crackdown and raid, unlawful arrest and detention to list a few infringements of workers’ rights.
Migrants make significant contributions to the development of both countries of origin and destination. Yet, they are being excluded from the social security, medical protection, relief packages and subsidies from the states. Governments have not provided sufficient and timely support for migrants at this crucial time while allowing private companies to monetise migration to generate profit.
Many migrant workers pay extortionate amounts of recruitment fees to secure low paying jobs. The debt bondage coerces the migrants to tolerate the low wages, long working hours and dangerous working condition without any choices.
Inequality is not inevitable. Migrant workers’ rights to freedom of association and inclusion in collective bargaining are vital to preventing inequalities. In many countries, migrant workers are not allowed to form trade unions, take up leadership roles in the union, or exercise their right to collective bargaining. Lack of social dialogue and platform for migrants to organise further worsen the power inequality between corporations/employers and migrant workers.
We stand united in solidarity with migrant workers for their decent work and dignity at work; and call on home and host countries governments to:
- Address the labour rights violence against migrant workers and ensure access to justice. Specific actions by the governments can include facilitating filing and following up migrant workers’ complaints against employers during mobility restriction or national lockdown in the COVID-19 context. The responses must consider the severe working conditions migrant workers have faced and reflect their demand to the government to provide temporary shelters or safe repatriation should they wish to return home.
- Include migrant workers and their families in all local and national COVID-19 crisis responses such as free test and medical care, food aid, national social safety net regardless of their migration status. Governments must establish concrete policy to ensure returnee migrants’ right to decent work and living wage.
- Stop all deportation, detention, and arrests of irregular migrants and realise their rights to acceptable, affordable, sufficient and quality health care, especially for women, children, and other vulnerable groups to infection. Governments must not facilitate any form of hate campaign against migrants and heighten it by carrying out massive raids and arrests.
- Ratify ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers and Convention 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work to ensure immediate implementation through national legislation and policies.
 Hammerton, S. (2010). International Migration: The search for decent work. Retrieved 2020, from http://lastradainternational.org/lsidocs/in%20search%20for%20decent%20work.pdf
 In focus: Women refugees and migrants. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/women-refugees-and-migrants
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