‘Decent work’ for domestic workers top agenda of ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labor

domestic workers
Migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to human trafficking and labor violations. (Photo by Clemente Bautista / Bulatlat.com)

In a recent study of the ILO, it found out that 61 percent of all domestic workers in Asia were entirely excluded from labor protection, and only three percent enjoyed equal protection with other general workers.


MANILA – “It is time for all ASEAN governments to recognize domestic work as a job, and ensure that their laws and policies provide the same protection as all other workers.” This is one of the messages shared to the media today by Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Nishimoto and other ILO officers on labor migration and domestic workers are set to speak at the 10th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML) to be held in Manila on 25-26 October 2017. Hosted by the Philippine government, particularly its Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs, the event is billed to gather senior officials from ministries of labor and other line ministries, workers and employers representatives and advocates from all ten ASEAN Member States.

Last August, members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also urged regional governments to do more to protect migrant workers and refugees.

“Millions of migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, throughout the ASEAN region continue to be vulnerable to abuse because governments have failed to put in place the necessary protections. That goes for both sending and receiving countries. Regional action is, therefore, necessary to ensure that all migrants are able to enjoy their basic human rights,” said Gabriela Women Rep. Emmi De Jesus.

Despite slow progress in the matter, Nishimoto said the forum will discuss this week and adopt a set of recommendations “to achieve decent work for domestic workers.”

The ILO official sees a glaring need for employing domestic workers and reforming the policies surrounding their work status.

“Having a domestic worker that looks after our children and elderly is a necessity for many men and women to pursue a career outside their homes,” Nishimoto said.

Based on projections, the ILO assistant Director-General said there is a need for domestic workers in the ASEAN, and the need will rise due to population’s aging, lower fertility rates, women’s increasing labor force participation and a decline in multi-generational households.

This corresponds with one of the Duterte administration’s declared economic thrusts of “managing migration” as a “tool for development.” Or, as the Migrante International group of organizations said, Duterte’s continuation of past Philippine presidents’ labor export policy.

Domestic workers’ indecent treatment

The government of the Philippines is the current chair of ASEAN and the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW). It is also a country that yearly deploys thousands of domestic workers, mostly women, for work abroad, including in ASEAN countries. It needs the overseas Filipinos’ remittances that amount to more than 10 percent of its yearly Gross Domestic Product. Early this month, it even created an overseas Filipino workers’ bank through Executive Order 44, “to manage the OFW remittances.”

But over the years, the Philippines has cried and railed over the OFWs’ tribulations such as the likes of Flor Contemplacion (a mother whose life and death as a domestic worker in Singapore was made into a movie), Sarah Balabagan (who was saved from the death row following the strong protests over the execution of Contemplacion) and more recently, Jakatia Pawa (executed in Kuwait) and Jennifer Dalquez (saved from the death row after Pawa’s death).

Migrant support groups have been calling on the Philippine government to stop what they call as institutionalized labor export and money-making schemes at the expense of the Filipino migrant laborers. But as a spokesperson for the Migrante International commented of Philippine government, “In each of these regimes, they only developed and systematized labor export policy.”

Migrante said the Duterte administration is no different in that regard, despite its promised change. They cited the Duterte government’s economic thrust of “managing migration” as a “tool for development”, and its subsequent actions that, to them, only betray his administration’s continued implementation of a labor export policy.

Managing migration ASEAN style?

The upcoming 10th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML) is set to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers.

domestic workers
A young Filipina from Samar in a domestic work in Manila (CC ILO Asia Pacific)

The date of the forum also coincides with the 6th anniversary of ILO’s convention on Domestic Workers (No. 189). It is an international labor standard adopted by all ILO member States in 2011 officially recognizing domestic work as work.

But recognition doesn’t automatically translate to doing something concrete about it. The treaty has been under negotiation for a decade since the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of Migrant Workers in 2007. ASEAN leaders may or may not decide to adopt this in their forum this week.

Nishimoto said that in most ASEAN Member States, provisions under labor laws do not apply to domestic workers. As a result, domestic workers are excluded from the protection provided to other workers such as social security benefits, minimum wage, and limitation in working hours.

In a recent study of the ILO, it found out that 61 percent of all domestic workers in Asia were entirely excluded from labor protection, and only three percent enjoyed equal protection with other general workers.

In another report, ILO also found out that globally, domestic work is the top sector where forced labor is found.

“Migrant domestic workers are even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as they are highly dependent on recruiters and employers, work in isolation and lack social networks,” Nishimoto said. He added that it is time all employers of domestic workers recognize that domestic workers are neither servants nor ‘members of the family’, but workers that should have the same rights as other workers. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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