The Jakarta Post/ANN) – Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei – three ASEAN countries that receive large numbers of migrant workers from their neighbors – will likely remain reluctant to discuss migrant worker issues at ASEAN ministers’ meetings, a senior Indonesian government official says.

However, the countries would not rule out discussing the issue altogether, especially at lower-levels, he said.

“The senior officials’ meeting [on Tuesday] considered that the issues on the establishment of instruments for the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers needed to be discussed further on a technical level,” Office of the Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare’s culture, tourism, youth affairs and sports coordinating deputy Sugihartatmo said here Wednesday on the final day of a three-day ASEAN senior officials’ meeting.

“I think there’s still a chance [to bring up migrant worker issues] in another senior officials’ meeting and to recommend discussions on these issues further at the ministerial and leader levels.”

ASEAN senior officials and ministers will meet days before the ASEAN Summit, which will bring all ASEAN leaders to Jakarta from May 7-8.

Sugihartatmo said the countries that received migrant workers would likely remain unwilling to discuss migrant worker issues at higher levels.

Echoing Sugihartatmo, Philippines Foreign Ministry director general for ASEAN Victoria S. Bataclan said there was still a possibility of discussing migrant worker issues at the summit.

“My understanding is that discussions and consultations will continue among the ASEAN member states… We have all the sectorial bodies that deal with relevant issues, in this case, migrant workers – it is certainly in the ASEAN sociocultural community,” she told The Jakarta Post.

Negotiations on the draft of the ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers have stalled since a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December in 2009.

The two biggest worker-receiving countries – Malaysia and Singapore – have been at loggerheads with the two largest migrant worker providers – Indonesia and the Philippines.

Malaysia and Singapore opposed the legally binding concept of the framework and standards of protection of undocumented migrant workers on a human rights basis.

Malaysia and Singapore have made another proposal to contest the draft proposed by Indonesia and the Philippines despite the fact that the first draft had already taken into consideration submissions from the opposing countries.

But Bataclan said progress had been made in the latest meeting between ASEAN technical officials dealing with the framework instrument.

“As far as I know in the last meeting, I think, of the drafting group who met, there was progress on the scope of the rights that we are talking about,” she said.

“The rights mentioned in the existing ASEAN declaration on the protection of migrant workers and their families will be the ones that we will put into a convention on the protection of migrant workers and their families.”

The number of Indonesian migrant workers, including those undocumented, in Malaysia is estimated at 2 million.

According to data compiled in 2010 by the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, there were around 86,000 Indonesian domestic workers, 16,000 professionals and 12,400 workers in the maritime industry
in Singapore.

Indonesian migrant workers working in neighboring ASEAN countries and the Middle East often face a range of problems, from not being paid to physical and sexual abuse, which in some cases resulted in death.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary-General Datuk Mohd Radzi Abdul Rahman declined to comment on the issue.