Intergovernmental regional seminar on promoting cooperation for safe migration and decent work

The Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment (MEWOE) called upon the member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the countries of destination to undertake a collective analysis of the issues that affect labour migration governance on 02 July 2013 at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel, Dhaka.

The Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment (MEWOE) called upon the member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the countries of destination to undertake a collective analysis of the issues that affect labour migration governance. The delegates from six of the eight SAARC member states, namely, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; some countries of destination and some other countries of origin, namely, Bahrain, Egypt, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines, and Qatar; and the SAARC Secretariat, were in Dhaka from 01-02 July 2013 to participate in an Intergovernmental Regional Seminar for Promoting Cooperation for Safe Migration and Decent Work.

Welcoming the delegates from the 13 countries of origin and destination, SAARC, and 18 government delegates from Bangladesh, Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan, Secretary, MEWOE, pointed out the achievement of the ministry and emphasized the importance of labour migration for economic development of Bangladesh.

The two day Intergovernmental Regional Seminar was inaugurated by the Honourable Eng. Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain, the Minister of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment. The Seminar was held with an overall goal to share expertise and good practices on policy, normative frameworks and support mechanisms in ensuring adequate safety standards for women and men migrant workers and for exploring ways forward for regional and bilateral collaborative frameworks.

The Minister of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, Mr. Hossain, in his speech stated that most workers do not migrate with an intention to settle in a country of destination. Many are aspiring entrepreneurs. They want to overcome the need for capital and other resources by working overseas. He stressed that the migrant workers believe that savings from a few years of hardship would enable them to achieve entrepreneurship in their country of origin and they hope to be able to start a business on their return.

The MEWOE organized the Intergovernmental Seminar with technical assistance from the International labour Organization (ILO) and financial assistance from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Mr. Srinivas Reddy, Director, ILO Country Office for Bangladesh mentioned that the driving forces of labour migration remain disparities in incomes and wealth, lack of decent work opportunities, and mismatch between employment creation and demographic trends among many other factors. Speaking about the assistance to Bangladesh on the issue of labour migration, Dr. Derek Mueller, Head of Cooperation, SDC, Bangladesh said that “better skills would enable migrant workers to find better jobs in the host countries, earning more for themselves and for Bangladesh”.

The Intergovernmental Seminar exchanged good practices between the countries of origin and the countries of destination within the framework of the International Labour Conventions, and Recommendations. Mr. Ahmed Ebrahim, Coordination Manager Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA), Bahrain, felt that this Seminar has provided further impetus and momentum to build the many bridges that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is trying to build. He cited the example of the GCC effort to develop a standardised contract for the domestic workers to end exploitation and abuse of expatriate domestic workers across the member states. Mr. Ibrahim Abdulla Al- Dehaimi, Head of the permanent Recruitment Committee, Ministry of Labour, Qatar, expressed that protection of the human rights of the expatriates is a priority for Qatar and they are committed to the issue.

The Intergovernmental Seminar discussed how coordination, facilitation and collective decision-making by the countries of origin through regional bodies, such as SAARC, could better serve the need for regional governance of labour migration. Mr. Sattianand Ramsawock, Acting Deputy Director (Employment Service), Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment, Mauritius, pointed out that well-being of the migrant workers is critical for labour and industrial relations in the countries of destination.

Through a set of recommendation, the participating government delegates identified possible regional and inter-regional solutions and mechanisms to support migrant workers. Zubair Muhammad, Chief Superintendent of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Emigration, Maldives, mentioned that a bridge should be built between the countries of origin and countries of destination to understand the challenges that the challenges each face. He pointed out that it is hard to explain the issue of labour shortage in certain trade as unemployment exists at large.

The Intergovernmental Seminar was held by the MEWOE in recognition of the fact that the migrant workers from the South Asia face certain common challenges and the countries of destination often have common issues in dealing with the foreign workers in their countries. This Seminar was the first effort towards exploring the possibilities for regional governmental action at the level of SAARC. Mr. Dhan Bahadur Oli, Director, SAARC Secretariat, mentioned that SAARC is an intergovernmental association and if advised by its member states through appropriate channels, it will demonstrate its intent and determination to work together to promote the social and economic well being of South Asian Citizens and to fulfill their hopes and aspirations of the migrant workers from South Aisa.

This exploration was guided by the precedents set by the regional bodies like ASEAN, which has set up a tripartite forum on labour migration and adopted the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (2007), and the SADC Protocol on Facilitation of the Movement of Persons (2005), which seeks to fulfil the objectives of the SADC Treaty. Mr. Nissanka Naomal Wijeratne, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Government of Sri Lanka, stated that there is a need to keep legislation in sending countries in-line with the international conventions.

The delegates engaged in reviewing needs, opportunities and scope of collaboration to enhance effective service delivery to the migrant workers from the South Asia. The delegates were of the unanimous opinion about the need for better inter-ministerial coordination within the countries of origin and destination and for tripartite platform/commission set up through intergovernmental process in the SAARC. At the end of the Intergovernmental Seminar, the delegate unanimously adopted the collectively negotiated Dhaka Statement, which gives a set of recommendations for follow up actions. They sought the ILO’s assistance in each of the South Asian countries to facilitate a collective understanding of the issue of labour migration and to build a momentum towards regional governance of labour migration.

The Intergovernmental Regional Seminar concluded with a Press conference on 02 July 2013. Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan, Secretary, MEWOE, shared the Dhaka Statement with the media and thanked the countries and the SAARC Secretariat for participating in the Intergovernmental Regional Seminar on Promoting Cooperation for Safe Migration and Decent Work.

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