Safe and Fair in ASEAN

EU, ILO and UN Women work to promote women migrant workers’ right to organize in workplaces and communities

The European Union (EU), International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Women held a regional planning meeting to identify challenge and share good practices promoting Women Migrant Workers’ Rights through Organizing initiatives in ASEAN countries.

News | 12 October 2018

Bangkok, Thailand (ILO News) - Guaranteeing the right to organize, collectively bargain, and join trade unions in destination countries is one of the most effective ways to prevent exploitation of women migrant workers from ASEAN, concluded the participants of the regional meeting for Promoting Women Migrant Workers’ Rights through Organizing in ASEAN.

Representatives from trade unions, migrant worker organizations and civil society along with experts, development partners and the UN, joined over two-days to identify the key challenges that prevent women’s access to organizing, to put forward good practices and showcase strategies to increase membership of women migrant workers, and strengthen the capacity of unions to engage with migrant women. Participants were asked to strategize and contribute to global, regional and nation working agendas to replicate and operationalize good practices.

Ms Novelita V. Palisoc, President, United Domestic Workers of the Philippines (UNITED) said, “This event is important to strengthen migrant women’s access to organizing, to keep them safe in migration and improve their working conditions”.

Women are increasingly migrating for work within the ASEAN region, and today women make up 47.8 per cent of migrant workers between ages of 20 and 64 in ASEAN. Migrant women work in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, services, home-based work and entertainment. They are also disproportionately represented in the domestic work and care sectors.

The debates underlined that women have fewer options than men for documented migration, and are often channeled into lower paid informal sector work with few if any labour protections and opportunities for organizing. Women migrant workers suffer from multiple forms of discrimination and violence, including sexual, physical, psychological and economic violence at all stages of the migration cycle due to inherent inequalities that exist in societies and in some governance policies. Discriminated against both as migrants and as women, they are particularly isolated and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

In this context, their participation in worker organizations, cooperatives, trade unions and self-help groups plays an important role in upholding women’s labour rights, ensuring decent work and defining policy priorities. By raising their voices together, women workers can negotiate to reduce gender pay gaps, increase pay and benefits, and improve working conditions.

Ms Panudda Boonpala, Deputy Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific stated that, “participation in worker organizations, cooperatives, trade unions and self-help groups plays an important role in upholding women’s labour rights, ensuring decent work and defining policy priorities”.

Participants reported that lower levels of labour exploitation, child labour, trafficking, and forced labour are found in industries with strong trade union representation. It was also reported that unions are often not legally allowed to include migrant workers at all or in leadership and that employers might prohibit worker organizing and collective bargaining.

The meeting also discussed the legal and practical challenges in organizing in sectors which predominately employ women, such as domestic work. Workers may not have recognition to be able to join unions and restrictions on freedom of movement, and isolated working conditions can further restrict the ability to join, form and influence trade unions, workers’ organizations and women workers’ collectives.

Melissa Alvarado, Ending Violence Against Women Programme Manager, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific stated, “we have learned that unequivocal leadership is a key to preventing violence against women – this includes the leadership of unions”.

Unions at times, lack capacity to reach migrant women especially those in domestic work and other hard to reach occupations. This is compounded by a documented gender gap in union representation and leadership. Representation of women in trade unions is critical given the important role trade unions play as frontline service providers, including for women who have experienced violence, and gendered forms of labour exploitation including trafficking.

In the absence of opportunities to formally organize, migrant women from the ASEAN region organize in parallel to trade union movements, through solidarity groups and associations. Such groups have proven to be crucial to prevention and protection of women migrant workers, in particular domestic workers, from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

This meeting provides the opportunity for participants to discuss challenges in organizing, from both the union and the migrant women’s perspective. The strategies proposed will form the basis of the Safe & Fair programme’s approach to promoting organizing for migrant women. This is part of the programme’s broader objective which is to ensure that labour migration is safe and fair for women in from the ASEAN region.

Mr Dominador Tuvera, Coordinator, ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) stated, “This gathering of the right partners is history in the making. Our organisations have taken the first step to come together. This is the first such planning event in the context of organizing of women migrant workers in ASEAN and beyond”.

H.E. Giuseppe Busini, Deputy Head of Mission – Delegation of the European Union to Thailand said, “The EU are proud supporters of the Spotlight Initiative and this Safe and Fair programme, which gives us an opportunity to empower women migrant workers from the ASEAN region and give these women a voice to claim their space and rights.”

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“Safe & Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region” Programme, is part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, a global, multi-year initiative between the European Union and United Nations. Safe & Fair is implemented through a partnership between the ILO and UN Women (in collaboration with UNODC) with the overriding objective of ensuring that labour migration is safe and fair for all women in the ASEAN region.

The programme aims to address women migrant workers’ vulnerabilities to violence and trafficking, strengthen rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to violence against women and labour migration governance and support access to essential services by improving the frameworks that govern labour migration and ending violence against women improving access to information and services for women migrant workers and opportunities for them to network and organize; producing data and evidence on the experiences of women migrant workers; and campaigning to generate a better understanding of the contribution of women migrants. The programme objectives specifically are: Women migrant workers are better protected by gender-sensitive labour migration governance frameworks; Women migrant workers are less vulnerable to violence and trafficking and benefit from coordinated responsive quality services; Data, knowledge and attitudes on the rights and contributions of women migrant workers are improved.

The joint
EU-UN Gender Spotlight Initiative was launched on 20th September 2017 during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). It is a Global initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls (VAWG) and it constitutes a comprehensive approach to prevent and respond to VAWG worldwide and address specific forms of VAWG at regional and country level. This is an unprecedented investment of 500 Million Euros by the European Union.
Spotlight will focus on particular forms of VAWG that are prevalent or prominently emerge in specific regions, such as trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (forced labour) exploitation in Asia; femicide in Latin America; sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices in Africa; specific forms of domestic violence in the Pacific and the Caribbean regions. Interventions will support an integrated and comprehensive approach tackling violence against women and girls at multiple levels and through actions that mutually reinforce each other in order to achieve sustainable results; building on existing initiatives.
The overall goal is that all women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, live free from all forms of violence and harmful practices because of prevention strategies and strengthened multi-sectoral and partnership-based responses.