The recognition of migrants’ rights is essential to achieving Decent Work for all men and women. In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development launched the Tripartite Action for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Region, also known as the ASEAN TRIANGLE Project.

The ASEAN TRIANGLE Project (ATP) aims to promote decent work opportunities for labor migrants by increasing their access to legal and safe migration channels and improving labor protection. The project promotes bilateral and regional approaches to deal with shared concerns, make regionalism more effective, and enhance the capacity of institutions in ASEAN. One of the Immediate Outcomes of ATP is: Enhanced capacity of social partners to influence migration policy and protect the rights of women and men migrant workers. Better involvement of workers’ and employers’ organizations in migration policy dialogue will enhance the protection of the rights of all migrant workers.

The ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) is an apex organization of eighteen national trade union centers and confederations in nine ASEAN Member States and East Timor that represents thirteen million members. Its affiliates include some of the most representative trade union organizations in ASEAN. It conducts conferences and training workshops on important labor issues. ATUC started work on labor migration in 2009 and its objectives are aligned with ATP. It engages in social dialogue about labor mobility in the region and undertakes initiatives to support its affiliates’ activities for migrant workers.

The ATP and the ATUC, through the International Trade Union Confederations-Asia Pacific (ITUC-AP), have partnered together and developed a work plan for ATUC that outlines shared objectives and common activities. The work plan addresses four1 of the nine ATUC priority programs. The work plan was endorsed by the ATUC General Assembly and approved by the ATP Project Advisory Committee. ATP and ATUC implement the work plan in collaboration with the ILO’s Bureau for Workers Activities and the International Trade Union Confederation – Asia Pacific.

In the course of the partnership, the following were achieved, among other things:

1. Adopted a framework for decent work in labour migration

The ASEAN integration has encouraged workers in ASEAN, particularly low and medium skilled workers, to migrate to look for better jobs in other ASEAN countries. This requires immediate and long-term interventions in promoting the rights of migrant workers in both origin and destination countries. In September 2014, ATUC affiliates representatives proposed to strengthen their regional network through an inter-union cooperation agreement.

In October 2014, the International Labour Organization’s ASEAN TRIANGLE Project and the ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) organized a meeting among ATUC leaders to discuss ATUC’s strategy for addressing the concerns of ASEAN migrant works and to identify key priorities that may be implemented by ATUC and its affiliates. The meeting culminated in the adoption of the ATUC Inter-Union Agreement.

The Agreement articulates ATUC’s framework for decent work in labour migration. It contains twenty-three action points for promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers in all stages of migration in destination and origin countries in the ASEAN.

ATUC and its affiliates have focused interventions in several areas, including awareness raising on the rights of migrant workers, expanding legal support services to migrant workers, and campaign for ratification of migrant labour conventions, particularly ILO Conventions No. 97 (Migration for Employment), No. 143 (Migrant Workers), and No. 189 (Domestic Workers).

The ATUC Secretariat has requested affiliates to provide periodic updates on their activities related to the implementation of the Agreement.

2. Strengthened engagement with other sub-regional union groupings for broadening coverage of migrant worker protection

In February 2015, the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ArabTUC), ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) and South Asian Regional Trade Union Council (SARTUC), with the support of the International Trade Union Confederation-Asia Pacific (ITUC-AP), met in Bangkok, Thailand for the first coordination meeting on labour migration.

The three organizations examined the concerns of migrant workers, reviewed sub regional initiatives and identified areas of cooperation to address labour migration issues in Asia Pacific. The meeting agreed to:

  • Strengthen partnership between trade unions and establish focal points for migrant workers in the organizations’ affiliates;
  • Push for the ratification and application of relevant migrant labour conventions;
  • Consider the setting up of a migrant labour centre in the Middle East; and
  • Hold coordination meetings at least once a year for evaluation and follow up actions.

The second coordination meeting in August 2015 during the 3rd ITUC – Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Kochi, India culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ArabTUC, ATUC and SARTUC.

The MOU:

  • Promotes joint action to create a safe and rights-based environment for migrant workers
  • Identifies eight priority actions of cooperation and joint trade union campaigns for the protection of migrant workers, including immediate follow up activities.
  • Adopts a system for regular monitoring and periodic evaluation of the MOU, particularly through [Joint Committees], to enable the updating of the MOU as appropriate
  • Creates a committee of six representatives to discuss and make recommendations for an appropriate structure for coordination, implementation, and evaluation of programme and actions, as well as to propose a detailed action plan for this MOU for 2016/2017.

Building on the MOU, six representatives of ArabTUC, SARTUC and ATUC identified five priority actions for the protection of migrant workers in a meeting supported by ITUC-AP on 17-18 May 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand:

  • Campaign for the ratification and application of ILO migrant labor conventions;
  • Sharing of information on activities through websites and social media;
  • Establish information centers or Migrant Resources Centers for networking, awareness, pre-departure orientation and post-arrival programs and direct services by unions;
  • Organizing migrant workers in both destination and origin countries; and
  • Building the capacity of affiliates’ focal points for labour migration and a common ASEANTUC/ ArabTUC/ SARTUC Information System on Migrant Workers.

3. Developed and adopted regional complaints and referral system for migrant workers

The complaint mechanism documents and tracks progress of MWs’ complaints and comes with three standard forms – Standard Inquiry Form, Standard Complaint Form, and Standard Case Monitoring Form. These forms are used by ATUC affiliates’ focal points for migrant labor to determine appropriate assistance to migrant workers in distress.

The standard inquiry form is for inquiries made by migrant workers or their representatives. This records every single call or inquiry the national center or focal point receives. The standard complaint form is used if the caller/inquirer has a complaint or complaints on migration-related issues or work and living conditions of the migrant worker.

The referral system ensures appropriate coordination among other national trade union centers in ASEAN, origin and destination countries, government agencies and partner civil society and non-government organizations. The standard monitoring form records the progress of work on complaints or migrant worker and migrant worker-related cases previously filed/reported.

The complaint mechanism and referral system address several main complaint issues (legitimacy of recruitment agencies/job orders, on the legal amount of recruitment fee, request for assistance to abused or maltreated migrant workers abroad, etc.) which are referred by the focal points to different government agencies and nongovernment/civil society organizations.

The affiliates handle MWs’ complaints, mostly money claims due to accident, death, non-payment of wages and overtime work, and facilitate the compensation of victims and victims’ families by proper authorities.

The focal points will enter the information collected through the standard forms into the ATUC Information System on Migrant Workers (ATIS) database which is in final stages of development. ATUC will produce periodic reports to help ATUC and its affiliates engage more effectively with employers’ organizations, governments and other stakeholders in addressing and resolving migrant workers’ inquiries and complaints and contribute to the protection of migrant workers.

The unions from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam participating in the TRIANGLE Sub-Regional Advisory Committee (SURAC) Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam on 21-22 April 2016 endorsed faster operationalization of the ATUC Information System Database. The SURAC (Sub-regional Advisory Committee) meeting has served as an ILO platform for tripartite constituents to share information, experiences and provide guidance on anti-trafficking and migration management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and beyond.

4. Adopted principles for a harmonized, rights-based approach in strengthening protection of ASEAN migrant workers

Migration in ASEAN involving low and medium-skilled workers, primarily in manufacturing, construction, fishing, and domestic work will continue as integration progresses. An ATUC policy brief supports a road map by which Member States, with the active engagement of social partners, can review and align their disparate national legislations and regulatory systems which leads to regional regulations incorporating international instruments on human and labour rights and on labour migration

  • The Policy Brief calls for the adoption of principles toward a harmonized, rights-based regional approach to recognize, promote, protect and enforce migrant workers’ rights:
  • Full and effective recognition of migrant workers’ rights, in conformity with ILO conventions and other international instruments;
  • Building the capacity of trade unions to undertake national, sub-regional, regional and interregional initiatives for migrant workers in countries of origin and destination; and
  • Enhancing the capacity of trade unions to effectively participate in the formulation of
  • policies and the management of governance mechanisms.

The policy brief provides guidance for review and harmonization of national policies, laws and institutions on labour migration; better appreciation of increased protection for low and medium skilled migrant workers; and contributions to the ability of Member States to ensure the protection of nationals working in other countries.

5. Identified joint actions to protect migrant workers with the employers’ group

The First Joint Meeting of the ASEAN Confederation of Employers and the ASEAN Trade Union Council was organized by the ILO ATP in order to strengthen bipartite dialogue in the ASEAN, address current and emerging issues of common concern, build trust among the two organizations and put forward common positions on key issues in labour migration to the Governments of the ASEAN through the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) and Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM).

ACE and ATUC identified mutual recognition of skills for medium and low-skilled workers, social protection for migrant workers, ethical recruitment and protection of migrant workers throughout the migration cycle as priority for joint actions. A regular annual dialogue will facilitate a bipartite discussion and joint actions on these common concerns. ATUC will host the next meeting.

Download the Outcome Statement.

6. Adopted eight conference statements on labour migration, workers’ rights and ASEAN integration

6.1 Accelerating Actions to Implement the ATUC Inter-Union Cooperation Agreement among ASEAN Unions as Strategy to Promote Decent Work and to Implement Recommendations of the 7th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML), 28 November 2014, Yangon, Myanmar

Unions play an important role in the protection of migrant workers while the ASEAN member states have the “responsibility to ensure better terms and treatment of migrant workers and protection of migrants” rights as essential to achieve Decent Work for all men and women.

Past, current, and future activities of the ATUC have enhanced the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers in the region, including the (a) ATUC mechanism for the documentation, reporting, and monitoring of complaints of aggrieved migrant workers; (b) the work of designated national migrant labor focal points; and the (c) Inter-union cooperation agreement

ATUC and its affiliates will strengthen cooperation among themselves for the protection of all migrants in line with the ATUC Framework for Decent Work and Labour Migration as specified in the ATUC Inter-Union Agreement, and monitor and report country and regional implementation of the recommendations of the 7th (and previous six) AFMLs, in cooperation with support institutions.

Download the complete statement.

6.2 Conclusions and Recommendations of the Conference on ASEAN 2015 and the ASEAN Social Chapter, 10-12 December 2014, Manila, Philippines (LO-FTF through the ITUC-AP supported the activity)

A decade after the promulgation of the ASEAN Social Charter –the social counterpart of the ASEAN economic, trade and investment architecture and representing the real aspirations of development-oriented government, trade unions, socially responsible employers and civil society — immediate robust actions need to be done in haste, particularly in:

  • creating opportunities and access to decent work;
  • recognizing and strengthening rights at work, in law and in practice;
  • ensuring the participation of workers and their organizations, as the biggest actors in the ASEAN community, in policy or decision-making and implementation;
  • setting up efficient and effective institutions of labor market governance, including both passive and active labor market policies and programs; and
  • linking social responses with trade arrangements at intra- and extra-ASEAN levels, among others.

ATUC will hasten actions at the national and regional levels for the amendment and adoption of a strengthened ASEAN Social Charter to ensure that bilateral and regional free trade agreements enshrine labour rights and ILO core standards, and strengthen actions for the implementation of the ATUC Inter-Union Agreement at the sub-regional and bilateral levels.

Download the complete statement.

6.3 The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Agreement on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Workers, 23 April 2015, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (The ITUC-AP supported the activity)

Taking into consideration current labor market realities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, the Declaration puts forward ATUC recommendations in the light of visible decent work deficits, e.g. increasing inequality in incomes. The Declaration reiterates the importance of inclusion of a Social Charter in ASEAN free trade agreements and economic integration, which will eventually call for standardization of various labor standards and labor market policies within ASEAN, for inclusive and sustainable future.

ATUC welcomes the initiative to adopt a regional standard on workers’ rights in ASEAN. The ATUC Declaration points out that an ASEAN Agreement on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Workers should be built on the basis of the ILO Conventions, Recommendations, relevant international instruments, and decent work principles, in harmony with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; and that the “ATUC should be recognized by the ASEAN as a functioning social partner in building, monitoring and promoting such ASEAN labor standards.”

The ATUC Declaration calls on the ASEAN for a formal dialogue to discuss issues and challenges in the ASEAN labor market integration and Free Trade Agreements.

The Declaration was presented by Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) General Secretary Gopal Kishnam during the workshop on labor at the ASEAN People’s Forum on 23 April 2015. ATUC handed over the Declaration to the SLOM Chair before the ASEAN Senior Labor Officials Meeting (SLOM) on 6-8 May 2015 in Manila, Philippines.

Download the complete statement.

6.4 The 2015 ATUC Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Youth, Migration and Decent Work, 05 September 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (The ITUC-AP contributed to the activity)

As part of the bigger vision for trade unions to attract young people and invigorate unions, and engage youth in issues of migration of which they are or would-be participants, ATUC organized a youth rally with the theme “Integrating Youth across Borders”.

The youth delegates participated actively in the collective analysis and appreciation of the current state of young workers, labor market realities, decent work, migration, the labor movement, and social media through structured learning exercises, workshops, group discussions, games, and other fun activities.

The Statement emphasized the role of unions and social media in identifying and addressing the risks and challenges of youth migration:

  • To enable an empowered YOUTH VOICE in the ASEAN by institutionalization of an ATUC Youth Arm at the ASEAN and national affiliate levels, with special attention to young women;
  • Better engagement for young migrant workers with ASEAN structures, member states, organized labor, and organization of employers, and other stakeholders;
  • To level up the ATUC Youth Rally as a biennial ATUC event, to include an assessment of programs for the youth in migration, development of needs-based youth programs and activities.

Download the complete statement.

6.5 Conference Statement on the role of Trade Unions in ASEAN Integration and Labour Migration in ASEAN and Actions on the 8th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labor and Past AFML Meetings, 27-28 October 2015, Singapore (The ITUC-AP contributed to the activity)

The Statement noted the progress of actions on various points in the ATUC inter-union agreement as reported by ATUC affiliates and proposed joint actions for advocacy and implementation of programs for the promotion and protection of migrant workers in the ASEAN. It calls for implementation of concrete actions at the national and ASEAN levels towards promotion and protection of migrant workers’ rights and welfare, including:

  • Accelerating actions and campaigns to implement the ATUC Framework for Decent Work in Labor Migration at the national level towards better and safer migration;
  • Adopting national treatment as minimum standard of treatment for all migrant workers, including provision of appropriate mechanisms in receiving countries to resolve disputes, accessible to foreign workers regardless of nationality as among the actions of trade unions in ASEAN Integration; and
  • Pushing for ATUC priorities from among the recommendations of the 8th AFML, as well as earlier AFMLs.

Download the complete statement.

6.6 ATUC Statement on Labor Standards in the ASEAN and the ASEAN 2025 Blueprint “Forging Ahead Together”, 9 December 2015, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (The LO FTF through the ITUC-AP supported the activity)

The ATUC called on the ASEAN, governments of Member States, ASEAN secretariat, and stakeholders to consider “A Framework for ASEAN Labor Standards and Emerging Principles” in compliance with the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Decent Work.

The ATUC called further for the ASEAN to ensure and strengthen tripartism and stakeholder participation, particularly of the ATUC as regional trade union organization, in the development, adoption, and implementation of sector work plans in relation to the ASEAN 2025, “a roadmap for ASEAN to realise further consolidation, integration and stronger cohesiveness as a Community”.

The ATUC recommendations on ASEAN Minimum Labor Standards were presented by ATUC General Secretary Brother Ruben Torres. ATUC President Brother Mohd Khalid Bin Atan officially handed over the ATUC statement on ASEAN Minimum Labor Standards to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) representative, Mr. Andika Wahab of AICHR Malaysia.

Download the complete statement.

6.7 Conclusions and Recommendations of the First Joint Meeting with the ASEAN Confederation of Employers, 8-9 March 2016, Bangkok, Thailand

Please see Item 5.

6.8 ATUC Statement on Minimum Labor Standards in the ASEAN and the ASEAN 2025 Blueprint “Forging Ahead Together”, 26 May 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR

ATUC reiterated its call on the ASEAN Member States, ASEAN secretariat, and stakeholders to consider “A Framework for ASEAN Labour Standards and Principles” to identify and strengthen key minimum labour standards in ASEAN.

ATUC crafted the Statement after the presentation of the consolidated preliminary results of the study on ASEAN minimum labour standards. The study contains ATUC recommendations in nine key areas, including wage standards, non-regular work arrangements, equality of opportunity and protection against discrimination, and freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Actions on the ATUC Regional Framework Action Agenda will be at the national level through labour law and institutional reforms and implementation of programmes; and coordinated regional and sub-regional action to address issues within national borders but requiring a common response, and cross-border issues including labour migration.

The Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) will hand over the final Statement to the SLOM Chair from Lao PDR. The other ATUC affiliates will hand over the Statement to the labour ministers and ASEAN focal points in their countries.

Download the complete statement.

7. Launched an improved ATUC website

The website has expanded the reach of ATUC. The increase in activities because of ATUC’s engagement with the ILO ASEAN TRIANGLE Project (ATP) has increased demand for information from ATUC affiliates, ASEAN workers and the general public.

ATUC has strengthened its web presence by improving the existing website. The redesigned website integrated relevant changes and made the site fresh and user-friendly, including mobile website access through smartphones and tablets and email subscription to new and revised contents. It uses the CMS (content management system) technology and allows updating and uploading contents using a simple word processing-style interface.

The website links to the ASEAN TRIANGLE Project’s Facebook page, schedule of activities and newsletters. This provides additional and more relevant information on activities and initiatives promoting the rights of migrant workers involving the social partners – particularly the employers and governments.

The website also links to the ATUC affiliates and the following organizations:

The website delivers new contents to 200 plus subscribers from ATUC affiliates, ITUC-AP, ILO ACTRAV, ILO ATP, ASEAN Secretariat and the general public. It has updated the resources page where relevant ATUC and ASEAN documents are uploaded.