You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

‘Landmark’ ASEAN pact for migrant workers may only ‘look good on paper’ —expert

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 3 days ago Kaufman, Karl
Migrant workers, many of them from the Philippines and employed as domestic workers, gather at a public access walkway at Hong Kong's Central district while on their day off Sunday, September 24, 2017. AFP/Tengku Bahar © Provided by GMA News Online Migrant workers, many of them from the Philippines and employed as domestic workers, gather at a public access walkway at Hong Kong's Central district while on their day off Sunday, September 24, 2017. AFP/Tengku Bahar

The “landmark” agreement that will be signed by ASEAN leaders seeking to protect the rights of migrant workers across the region may look good on paper, but it is nonbinding and generally unimplementable, a development and Asian studies specialist said Tuesday.

The agreement, called the "ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers" has “good provisions”—which reportedly include allowing laborers to join unions and prohibiting employers from confiscating their workers’ passports—but it is "simply an expression of intention" from which any of the ASEAN’s 10 member-states can opt out, said Dr. Eduardo C. Tadem at a forum in Quezon City.

"Something that looks good on paper may not necessarily look good in practice," he said, explaining that such an agreement is subject to national laws and regulations.

The professor of Asian Studies also said ASEAN governments still have to work on an action plan for the agreement.

"So you have this, what we call an ASEAN-minus-x agreement, meaning any ASEAN government can opt out of any consensus agreement if it feels that international agreement goes against whatever—their own culture, their own belief systems, their history, their particularities and so forth and so on," Tadem said.

Tadem is also a co-convenor of the Philippine National Organizing Council for the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum 2017, which over the weekend held a four-day summit parallel to the high-level meetings taking place in Manila this week.

The fruit of their conference was a consolidated statement calling for the "genuine inclusion" of civil society organizations, and consequently the grassroots formations they represent, in ASEAN talks, where most of the floor for discussions is hogged by government executives and big businesses.

The signing of the pact was hailed by the Department of Foreign Affairs as the "centerpiece" of the Philippine’s ASEAN chairmanship, which last happened in 2007 and will only happen again 10 years from now. Singapore, itself a top destination for migrants from Southeast Asia, will host the ASEAN meetings next year.

During the Philippine’s chairmanship of the economic block a decade ago, the ASEAN adopted the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, and has worked over the years to improve the draft instrument until it was finalized by labor officials earlier in the year.

Millions of Filipinos each year leave from their families to work abroad, and reports of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by foreign employers may have become a cautionary tale for aspiring migrant workers. The number of Overseas Filipino Workers has not dipped below two million between 2010 and 2016.

Another “important milestone” in the ASEAN meetings this month is the green light to start negotiations for a proposed code of conduct that will potentially prevent conflicting territorial claims in disputed areas in the South China Sea.

It is also unclear whether the proposed code will be legally binding—ASEAN has reportedly maintained that it should be, while China, the biggest claimant in the protracted territorial strife, has opposed it.  —KBK, GMA News

More From GMA News Online

GMA News Online
GMA News Online
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon