Jakarta: Indonesian migrant workers are at risk of harsh treatment and exploitation as the region moves toward the introduction of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015 unless the region comes up with a legally binding instrument, officials have said.

The Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it was currently negotiating with other Asean countries to agree on an Asean migrant-workers protection regime.

“We are pushing so that the documents can be used as a framework whenever there is a dispute in the future,” the ministry’s director of Asean functional cooperation, George Lantu, said.

The instrument is a follow up to the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (Cebu Declaration) in 2007.

It consists of the fundamental norms of the protection of ASEAN migrant workers.

However, there have been multiple interpretations of what is meant by the “instrument” outlined in the Cebu Declaration.

The instrument is interpreted by Indonesia and other states that exports workers as an international agreement.

However, to some other Asean countries, mostly receiving states, the “instrument” is no more than guidance, which is not legally binding.

Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) senior advisor on Asean Yuyun Wahyuningrum said it was important for the government to fight for an instrument that was legally binding.

“If it’s not legally binding then there’s no sense of responsibility (among Asean countries),” she said on Thursday.

In the current negotiations, the Indonesian government is also pushing for the instrument to be nondiscriminatory, since there is concern that the AEC would discriminate against unskilled workers.

“The question now is whether domestic helpers are deemed skilled workers or not,” George said.

There are also concerns that the current draft of the instrument contains many flaws. — Jakarta Post /Asia News Network