The statement from the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers comes ahead of a scheduled meeting of labour ministers from ASEAN countries next month.

It also follows strikes spurred by allegations of exploitative recruitment practices at two factories in Thailand, including one that employs hundreds of Cambodians – the Phatthana Seafood factory in southern Thailand.

Sinapan Samydorai, the convener of the task force, said yesterday the cases had highlighted the need to speed up the implementation of binding regional protections for migrant workers.

“These are things that should not be happening in a country like Thailand that is a developed or developing country,” he said.

The statement calls on Thailand to significantly increase penalties against employers who seize migrant workers’ identity documents, thoroughly investigate allegations of exploitation in Thai factories and better coordinate with sending countries such as Cambodia.

On Thursday, Phatthana Seafood gave Cambodian workers back their passports, which had been withheld, and has conceded to some of the pay demands from their migrant employee labour force.

Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press & Quick Reaction Unit, said last week that as ASEAN moved toward becoming an open economic community by 2015, it was important the region established a good reputation for labour standards in export markets.

“We, the 10-countries bloc of ASEAN, will enjoy free trade and free flow of investment along with moving of skilled labour within the region, and ASEAN will export more of their products to overseas market including the US, EU and the rest of the world,” he said in an email.

“Thus, labour law and human rights issues must be linked to production. In this regard, ASEAN needs to protect its image from being accused of exploiting workers.”

Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN and hosted regional leaders earlier this month at the organisation’s 20th summit. –David Boyle, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012042455734/National-news/asean-pushed-on-new-migrant-work-safeguards.html