The Philippines is not the only country exerting efforts to protect its migrant workers against abusive hiring practices. In a conference last week, other Southeast Asian nations shared their own methods of keeping their overseas workers—especially the women, who are more prone to abuses—safe.

Hosted by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) last November 13, ASEAN-member countries spoke of ratifying more human rights conventions by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and International Labor Organization (ILO) during the ASEAN Regional Conference of Senior Officials on Strengthening the Protection and Empowerment of Women Migrant Workers.

Part of the conference tackled the accountability of recruitment agencies and accessibility of complaints mechanism for domestic workers, particularly women workers.

Cambodia, for one, has its Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan (GMAP) prepared jointly by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and Ministry of Labor & Vocational Training (MoLVT).

The plan, on implementation since 2009, aims to “address some of the current gaps in the protection of women’s labor rights” and “promote gender equity and reduce gender gaps through labor and vocational training.”

A pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) is also being developed to help migrant workers understand the culture and laws of their destination countries.

Vietnam, who has ratified laws protecting their migrant workers in July 2007, has recently developed its own gender-sensitive curriculum for PDOS.

The curriculum discusses the basic rights of women migrants, gender-related issues to working abroad, and sample cases that migrant women might face overseas.

In the Philippines, the PDOS system is criticized for its alleged inability to prepare outgoing migrant workers for the challenges waiting for them abroad, and instead becoming an avenue for marketing various products and services.

While no concrete plans have been announced, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said last July that a review will be launched to improve the quality of the country’s PDOS system.

Ethical recruitment, complaints mechanism

Forced labor and human trafficking are shared problems within ASEAN nations, and while labor destination countries refuse to discuss such events, labor-sending countries continue to improve mechanisms to hold recruitment agencies accountable for their actions.

Indonesia’s Law No. 3 of 2004 on the Elimination of Domestic Violence and Child Protection Act No. 23 of 2002, are both fine examples as they protect the victims’ names and addresses, and offer psychosocial services. The victims may also be housed in halfway houses for 10 days or more, depending on their condition.

Vietnam and its monitoring and evaluation system found a number of recruitment agencies that did not fully contribute to its Fund for Overseas Employment Support and collected fees higher than prescribed rates.

Administrative fines and suspensions were handed out to these recruitment agencies, who were judged according to self-evaluations and information from various groups.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Migrant Resource Center in Phnom Penh established a complaints desk to allow domestic helpers to report possible abuses. As of September, it has processed a total of 625 cases, 236 of which involved women.

Common challenges

All countries report a lack of gender perspective in labor migration data, with Cambodia reporting a “lack of data on the gender composition of irregular migrants.”

ILO said in its presentation that specific gender measures for migration policies, programs, and budgets are also needed to lessen the migrant’s dependency on their employers and employer-specific validation of work visas.

More female migration managers, time-bound gender goals, and increased gender capacity in migration institutions were also suggested to ensure the protection and equality of migrant workers. —KBK, GMA News