Statement Adopted by the Participants of the ASEAN Manila Consultation on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers

We, the 130 participants representing migrant workers, community groups and NGOs, churches, trade unions and the academe from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, after intensive discussions and consultations, hereby:

ACKNOWLEDGE the success of the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, Philippines in agreeing to an ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, which takes important steps in moving ASEAN towards compliance with existing UN conventions and treaties, and gives due recognition to the need to share responsibilities regionally for the protection of migrant workers while also acknowledging both the differences and similarities of concerns of the ASEAN member-states;

RECALL that the Philippines has ratified several UN human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families where many of the provisions were already enshrined earlier in a national law(RA 8042);

RECALL further that the Philippines has more than three decades of significant experience in overseas employment, and in advancing the interests and welfare of overseas Filipino workers and their families, and therefore, would be in a position to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of policies, laws, programs and services for migrant workers and their families;

RECOGNIZE that there are many critical aspects of migration that have been regrettably excluded from the ASEAN Declaration, including the protection for undocumented workers, the rights of family members accompanying migrant workers, the right of migrant workers’ children to citizenship in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the recognition of the human rights of women migrants, particularly reproductive rights, as provided for by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

STATE unreservedly that more than three decades of labor export policies by the Philippine government have not brought meaningful human development and real sustainable national development to our country ; and,

RAISE our very urgent concerns about the increasing violations of the rights and wellbeing of women and men migrant workers and their families, the unprotected and informal nature of women migrants’ work, and the failure of the Philippine government and other ASEAN governments to take appropriate steps to address gender and human rights issues in migration;

DO HEREBY FORMALLY DECLARE THAT

While we support the first three “General Principles” enumerated in the ASEAN Declaration, we register our strong objection to the fourth General Principle contained in the Declaration which denies the human rights of undocumented migrant workers;

We strongly believe that labor is not a commodity and migrant workers must not EVER be considered as a commodity for export and exploitation;

We state with conviction that all migrant workers have inherent, inalienable, and indivisible rights as human beings and as workers;

We firmly maintain that all migrant workers and members of their families deserve recognition and protection, irrespective of their legal status;

We clearly affirm that all children of migrant workers have the right to citizenship, irrespective of the status of their parents, as provided for in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by all ASEAN states;

We assert that the universal human rights and dignity of migrant workers must be given preeminence over geo-political and national security considerations;

We deem it self-evident and, therefore, compulsory that appropriate recognition be given and policy steps taken to address gender considerations in connection with employment, social relations and processes, benefits and entitlements for migrant workers;

We believe that firm action must be taken to address problems faced by women migrant workers such as informalization and low valuation of domestic work and entertainment, exclusion from legislation and grievance mechanisms, and discrimination, particularly in the form of violence and denial of their reproductive rights;

We affirm that human trafficking in all its forms must be firmly opposed and responded to using human rights and gender perspectives, locating the needs and rights of survivors at the center of anti-human trafficking policies, programs and services;

We therefore strongly recommend the following policies to the Government of the Philippines, and to the Member-States of ASEAN:

Recommendations to the Government of the Philippines
Addressing Root Causes of Outmigration
We strongly urge the Philippine government to create an enabling environment for the productive utilization of OFW remittances that will result in sustainable livelihoods and vibrant local economies, thereby reducing poverty, and providing alternatives to overseas employment.

Evaluate the impact of free trade agreements on the socio-economic conditions of the people. Available data from civil society would show that such agreements have exacerbated, rather than reduced poverty. In this respect, we strongly urge the Philippine Senate not to ratify the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement because it is an unfair treaty that will benefit Japan more than the Philippines.

1. Develop a coherent policy framework on socio-economic reintegration of overseas Filipino workers.

2. Ensure that development policies truly reflect the interests of returning OFWs and a clear understanding that remittances should be used for authentic poverty reduction, consistent with the UN Millennium Development Goals.

3. Allocate adequate financial, human and social resources for effective reintegration.

4. Institutionalize the representation of OFWs and their family members in local government units and in local development councils.

5. Provide returning workers with economic incentives and assistance such as such as tax holidays, simplified business registration and regulatory systems, provision of marketing assistance to help them set up economic enterprises to secure their livelihoods.

6. Provide capacity-building/training in livelihood development, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship for OFWs and their families.

Provide local NGOs with funding to support sustainable local development programs to assist OFWs achieve quality livelihoods upon return.

Institutionalize financial literacy and reintegration program planning in Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars (PDOS) and Pre-Employment Orientation Seminars (PEOS) to be given NOT only to OFWs but to the members of the OFW and would-be OFW families.
Reducing Vulnerabilities of Women Migrant Workers
We call on the Philippine Government to comply with its commitment to the UN CEDAW, and fully operationalize its avowed recognition of gender equality and adherence to gender-sensitivity as a principle (Sec. 2d, R.A. 8042) in its policies, programs and services.

1. Adopt the recommendations pertinent to Filipina migrant workers of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its 36th session in 2006, to wit:
Undertake measures to “bring about changes in traditional patriarchal attitudes and in gender stereo-typing” that are a root cause of violence against women and “the disadvantaged position of women in a number of areas, including in all sectors of the labour market and in political and public life.”

“Continue conducting enforceable bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding framed on protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of migrant workers with countries and regions where Filipino women go to in search of jobs.
Take a coherent and comprehensive approach to addressing the root causes of women’s migration including through the creation of conditions necessary for sustainable development and of safe and protected jobs for women as a viable economic alternative to migration or employment.”

2. Recognize domestic work and entertainment as formal work.
Extend quality and gender-responsive medical care and psycho-social care/counseling for survivors of all forms of violence and discrimination.

Create a “one-stop shop” to process applications for overseas work and for seeking redress to grievances. This is meant to streamline the bureaucracy, and cut down on red tape and avenues for corruption. Adequate and competent personnel, and financial resources should be provided to the “one-stop shop.”
Transform Philippine embassies, consular offices and Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) into centers of care and service for overseas workers.

Ensure that frontline agencies and personnel are adequately oriented and trained on rights-based and gender-responsive approaches and processes.

Develop and implement an effective feedback mechanism to monitor and evaluate the performance of government agencies addressing labor migration, including Philippine embassies, consulates and POLOs, and impose sanctions where and when appropriate. OFWs should be involved in this process.

Evaluate the effectiveness of TESDA as the Skills Training Center for OFWs, specially women migrant workers.

Undertake a serious review and audit of OWWA structure and operations, with the objective of instituting transparency and effective management of the OFW Trust fund that can enhance the protection and welfare of OFWs during and after the migration process.

Curbing Illegal Recruitment, Trafficking and Irregular Migration

We strongly urge the Philippine government to exercise political will in addressing the problems of illegal recruitment, human trafficking and irregular migration, specially the socio-economic and political conditions that give rise to them.

1. Adopt the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its 36th session in 2006, to wit:

1.1. “Further strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation with countries of origin, transit and destination so as to address trafficking in women more effectively.”

1.2. “Pursue a holistic approach aimed at addressing the root causes of trafficking and improving prevention.”

1.3. “Take appropriate measures to suppress the exploitation of prostitution of women,”

1.4. Provide rehabilitation, social integration and economic empowerment programmes to women and girls who are victims of exploitation and trafficking.

1.5. Provide financial support to NGOs that assist in the rehabilitation of women and girls in prostitution.

1.6. “Prosecute and punish traffickers and those who exploit the prostitution of women and provide protection to victims of trafficking.”

1.7. “Develop policies and measures to protect women migrant workers who go abroad through informal channels from all forms of violations of their rights.”

Strengthen the monitoring mechanism of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) by giving it stronger regulatory and enforcement powers with corresponding human and financial resources to curb illegal recruitment, human trafficking and other forms of irregular migration.

Develop the Pre-Employment Orientation Seminars (PEOS) and Pre-Departure Orientation Sessions (PDOS) which are designed according to the country of destination to which the worker is going, and the sector/type of work that s/he will be undertaking.

Provide financial resources to and competent professionals in the Inter-Agency Council on Anti-Trafficking.

Ensure the full and consistent implementation of legally mandated labor standards in the recruitment process.

Forge bilateral labor agreements with destination countries to ensure harmonization of recruitment policies and procedures, prevent illegal recruitment, human trafficking and irregular migration, and protect the rights of all migrant workers, regardless of legal status.

Addressing the Social Costs of Labor Migration

We recommend that the Philippine Government undertakes measures to prepare families for overseas employment, and provide OFWs and their families social security and protection.

1. Devise PDOS and PEOS for families of OFWs that uses a curriculum that includes ideas, values, and strategies to strengthen families (on topics like dealing with strains faced by OFW families, ideas on solo parenting, building understanding and ways to hold the family together), and creative and innovative IEC materials to reach the youth to supplement these sessions. Publicity and support for these orientation sessions can also be supplemented by outreach strategies like setting up e-groups and forums, and joint organizations.

2. Coordinate with NGOs and community organizations and other other stakeholders from national to barangay on programs and services meant to provide structures of care for children with migrant parent/s, and mitigate adverse effects of migration.

3. Allocate financial assistance for communities to train professionals to address family problems arising from the migration of one or both parents.

4. Conduct pro-active information dissemination on PhilHealth programs and services among OFWs and their families. PhilHealth should develop a system for up-to-date collection of membership payment, simplify membership payment and requirements as well as availment of benefits.

Building and Strengthening Migrant Organizations, Self-Representation, Political and Electoral Representation
We strongly urge the Philippine Government to improve and broaden current mechanisms and processes to ensure genuine representation and participation of OFWs in governance.

1. Increase the representation of migrant workers and civil society organizations working with migrants on the decision-making bodies of key agencies working with migrants, such as the POEA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, PhilHealth, Social Security System, PAG-IBIG in order to institutionalize consultations with migrants, transparency in operations, and collaboration with civil society.

2. Institutionalize a broad and democratic process whereby organizations of OFWs themselves choose their sectoral representatives to the government boards related to labor migration.

Gender equity should be a guiding principle in said process.

3. Institute legislative and executive measures to improve R.A. 9189 (Overseas Absentee Voting Law) to respond to the particular situation of overseas voters, especially seafarers;

4. Make representations with governments of destination countries of Filipino workers to ensure that fundamental human rights such as the right to organize, are recognized and respected.

5. Set up a network of “maritime attaches”, especially in countries such as Norway, Greece, and Japan where there are a high number of ship owners/employers who are employing Philippines seafarers, to effectively address the issues and concerns of seafarers.

Recommendations to ASEAN Member States

We urge the Member States of ASEAN to immediately ratify all eight core ILO Conventions1, and ensure that their national labour laws, especially those laws governing migrant workers, are harmonized with the standards contained in those core ILO Conventions, keeping in mind that migrant workers make real and substantial socio-economic contributions to both origin and destination countries, and as key stakeholders, it is in their interests to ensure that migrant workers are fully protected and assisted in every way possible.

Since the Philippines has already ratified ILO Convention 143 as well as the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families, we urge all other ASEAN Member States to immediately ratify these Conventions. We further urge that all ASEAN member states should ratify ILO Convention 97 and 181.

We recommend the national Ministries of Labour decide that the “instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers” to be developed (as called for in paragraph 22 of the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers) will be a binding instrument on ASEAN Member States. The ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting to be convened in 2008 should accept that recommendation.
The ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers should have a practical, workable mechanism for solving cases of migrant workers facing difficulties, with uniform standards and transparent procedures in place to ensure quality response by the Governments and other stakeholders. Once a regional human rights mechanism is established in ASEAN, a grievance system where migrants can file complaints should be established under that human rights mechanism.

We advocate that the ASEAN Framework Instrument should have a reporting mechanism for Member States to report on their compliance with the provisions of the Framework Instrument. ASEAN is urged to create an independent Commission of experts from the Member States who shall be empowered to receive the States’ reports, receive information from trade unions and civil society organizations, conduct investigations and follow-up activities, report to the ASEAN Leaders, and undertake other activities to be determined. The ASEAN Secretariat could be tasked to provide technical support and services to assist the functioning of this independent Commission.

Undocumented migrants contribute significantly to the economies of receiving countries. Thus, we strongly urge all ASEAN Member-States, specially Malaysia, to recognize and protect their rights and well-being, stop criminalizing them, and consider regularization of their status.

The right of citizens of all ASEAN Member States to hold their own passports and Government-issued identity documents should be considered inviolable. Yet, migrant workers regularly report that brokers, agents, and employers routinely and systematically seize their passports and documents. Member States of ASEAN should adopt a clear no-tolerance policy that imposes tough punishments on all persons who seize or hold migrant workers’ documents.
The Member States of ASEAN are urged to intensify their actions to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against migrant workers, specially women, and set out clear policies that state that ‘national treatment’ in employment standards and benefits shall be provided for all migrant workers, regardless of status.
The Member States of ASEAN are urged to ensure that migrant domestic workers are specifically included in coverage of the national labour law and grievance mechanisms.

Since all the Member States of ASEAN have ratified both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), all children born to migrant workers should be provided with birth registration and access to education and health care. Further, Member-States are urged to repeal policies on automatic contract termination and deportation of women migrant workers on the basis of pregnancy, and health-related conditions .

Recognizing that migrants in ASEAN are increasingly female, we believe the Member States of ASEAN should set out clear gender-sensitive policies, processes and practices on migration.

Recognizing that quality of health of a migrant worker does not just affect the worker, but also his/her family residing in the country of origin, we recommend that the Member States of ASEAN create an effective scheme of high quality, portable health care insurance for migrant workers.

Given the importance of migrant worker remittances to the economy of the migrant’s origin country, a dependable, accessible, and inexpensive system for transmitting remittances in ASEAN is vital. The Member States of ASEAN, and specifically their central banks, are urged to undertake serious studies and measures, to support the creation of such a remittances system, whether implemented by the private sector, trade unions and civil society organizations, or Government agencies.

Recognizing the important need for increased awareness and information among migrant workers and their families, the Member States of ASEAN are urged to actively support education on and dissemination of international labour standards (especially concerning migrant workers) as embodied in the core ILO Conventions, ILO migrant worker conventions, and UN Convention on Migrant Workers to intending, current and returning migrant workers and their families.

In close cooperation with the ASEAN member states and academics, ASEAN should closely examine procedures, policies, and practices for effective and just integration of migrant workers entering the work force of a receiving country, and study mechanisms for re-integration of migrant workers when they return to the sending country. These studies should be made public, and consultative dialogues organized with ASEAN civil society organizations to discuss the findings and make further recommendations.

We believe that workers’ organizations are a vital element in protecting migrant workers. In close consultation with all sections of the national trade union movements, the ASEAN counties should make necessary legal and policy changes to allow for portability of trade union membership, thereby allowing migrant workers who are members of their own national trade union to be effectively and legally represented by trade unions in the receiving country.

ASEAN should investigate the problems and abuses that exist in the current systems of labour recruitment in the sending countries and engage systematically with all stakeholders (migrant workers, NGOs, trade unions, local, provincial, and national government officials, and recruitment agency trade associations) to develop just and realistic solutions to issues of exorbitant recruitment fees, contract substitution, abusive oversight and maintenance of migrant workers being mobilized or “trained”, deception and human trafficking, and other abuses against migrant workers.

ASEAN should establish a Civil Society Advisory Council to institutionalize meaningful multi-sectoral representation, as well as constructive dialogue and consultation on labor migration issues and concerns.

Done in Manila, September 24, 2007.

1 ILO Conventions 29, 87, 98, 100, 105, 111, 138, and 182.

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