ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour

Opening address at the National Tripartite Meeting for the 11th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML)

By Mr Khalid Hassan, Director, ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the National Tripartite Meeting for the 11th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML), Manila, Philippines, 4 September 2018

Statement | Manila, Philippines | 04 September 2018
  • Excellencies, distinguished representatives and key government officials present with us today;
  • Our partners from workers’ and employers’ organizations,
  • Rrepsentatives from the civil society,
  • Ladies and gentlemen, good morning!
On behalf of the ILO, I am very happy to welcome you all to this Preparatory workshop of the 11th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour, or AFML.

Every year, the AFML brings together stakeholders including governments, workers’, employers’ civil society organizations, the ASEAN Secretariat and international organizations, including the IOM and UN Women, to discuss various issues related to labour migration.

This year, the Government of Singapore will host the AFML in late October. The theme of the 11th AFML is “Digitalization to Promote Decent Work for Migrant Workers in ASEAN.”

We often associate digitalization with innovation, efficiency and new unforeseen technological solutions to solve problems. But, digitalization also involves risks, challenges and unequal distribution of technological gains. It is important for ASEAN member States to maximize positive impacts of digitalization to promote well-being of migrant workers.

So, what can digitalization offer to promote decent work for migrant workers in ASEAN?

One area where digitalization can promote migrant workers’ protection is migration management. Some governments have developed digital platforms for facilitating migration and providing online pre-departure training and post-arrival orientation.

Migrants’ records can be stored in smart cards to be used throughout the migration cycle, and to access services. Making contracts and employment records digitally-available can mitigate against confiscation of migrants’ documents and contract substitution.

License and operational status of recruitment agencies can also be made readily available through the internet and mobile apps, as done by the Philippine government for example, to help migrants avoid unscrupulous recruiters. All these can help reduce trafficking, illegal recruitment or forced labour situations.

Some countries may store bio/health/immigration data of migrant workers in databases used primarily for enforcement purposes. This raises concerns about privacy and protection of personal data, especially if said data are not “fire-walled” and are misused by enforcement agencies or employers to profile or track migrants, restrict mobility or labour rights, discriminate at work.

This includes discriminating against HIV or other conditions they deem undesirable, or denying basic social services such as health, education for undocumented migrants and their children.

Indeed, the final draft of the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM) seeks to safeguard against such abuses.

Second area is digital services to migrant workers. Platforms such as Line, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, and other apps. These online tools can be used effectively to share safe migration information, help migrant workers network, and  build mutual-help groups, seek help, report violations, or access services of government and other support groups.

Specialized platforms are also being created to allow migrant workers to rate recruitment agencies and to compare fees charged by different money transfer organizations for sending remittances. This information can help migrant workers make informed decisions.

At the same time, it is important to remember that there are many migrant workers who have no access to technology, or who cannot use it in a meaningful way to protect themselves.

As an example of this platform and partnership, the ILO has worked closely with the International Trade Union Confederation and its affiliates in a number of countries, including the Philippines to develop the Migrant Recruitment Advisor, or MRA.

MRA, similar to the TripAdvisor, allows migrant workers to comment on their experiences, to rate the recruitment agencies, and to learn about their rights.

In the Philippines, the welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers is a top foreign policy concern under the current administration.

Workers organizations and trade unions in the Philippines have recently launched this web platform, to help protect migrant workers from abusive employment practices through user reviews of recruitment agencies.

As many of you may know, about 3,000 Filipino workers leave the country daily in search for a better life and decent work.

The recruitment process is crucial to reduce or to prevent abuses, including false promises, high fees, illegal deductions, fake jobs, lower wages and unsafe working conditions.

This is why digital technology, when maximized and used effectively, is very important to enhance awareness about migrant workers’ rights and to provide access to grievance mechanisms when their rights are violated.

Asia Pacific region is home to more than half of the world's internet users, with average regional internet use of about 44 per cent of the population, and with
58 per cent of websites accessed through mobile phones. Gains of this internet revolution are however not distributed evenly, and migrant workers – and especially women migrant workers – are often among the most disadvantaged in terms of access – to mobile phones and internet.

Another challenge is the financial inclusion of migrant workers through digital finance. This an important subject in labour migration, particularly maximizing the impact of migration on economic development of many countries.
Digital payments and broader digital financial services are an evolving and complex domain that do not always have clearly delineated boundaries.

The landscape of remittance technology has been evolving over the years but there are many initiatives that can help accelerate the transformation of the traditional model of intermediary banks when making cross-border money transfers.

The opportunity is clearly significant with 85 per cent of all remittances, including domestic, estimated to still be conducted in cash, while the cost of cross-border transfers remains a serious issue for many in developing markets, including South-East Asia.

Governments and international organizations can therefore play a central role in creating an enabling environment in digital finance to improve the remittance process and also to have positive externalities such as financial inclusion. Governments can potentially play a role in promoting education, with focus on national awareness campaigns, financial and remittance literacy, and technology usage assistance, which may be discussed in detail during pre-departure seminars of origin governments.

Taking into account these challenges, sectoral differences and gender gaps in migrant workers’ access to mobile phones, internet and even digital finance, is important to ensure that digital services created can benefit as many migrant workers as possible.

Focusing this years’ AFML discussions on digitalization aligns with the overall theme of Singapore’s 2018 ASEAN “Resilience and Innovation”.

This theme is also relevant to the ILO as we prepare for our Centenary or 100 years anniversary in 2019 with the Future of Work Centenary Initiative. This initiative recognizes that technology will impact the quality and quantity of jobs. Shifts in global economy will also broaden the gap between the geographic locations where decent jobs are available and the geographic locations where the workers are. Consequently, the ILO’s agenda for fair migration needs to be central in discussions on future of work . We hope that the AFML discussions will identify priority topics for consideration at the global level.

Your presence and participation matter. Before I end, let me highlight the important role that each of you play to achieve the objectives of this meeting:
  1. Review progress towards the recommendations from the previous AFMLs; and
  2. Prepare, agree and endorse a set of recommendations on how to achieve decent work for migrant domestic workers that the 11th AFML delegates can use at the AFML proper in October.
I would also like to thank the Department of Labor and Employment through the International Labor Affairs Bureau for organizing this meeting. The ILO is also grateful to the Canadian and Australian Governments for their continued support to the ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN Programme, and thereby to the AFML process.

I wish the meeting great success! Thank you.