ASEAN signs pact for migrant workers' protection

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 14 2017 08:27 PM

A couple embraces at the NAIA departure area where thousands of overseas contract workers will be returning to the countries where they work after spending the holidays with their loved ones, January 18, 2017 . Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA- Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday signed a landmark treaty to protect the rights of migrant workers during the regional bloc's 31st summit here. 

The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers serves as a framework for cooperation in safeguarding the interests and welfare of millions of migrant workers in the region. 

Labor Chief Silvestre Bello III earlier said that under the treaty, ASEAN member-states have agreed to:

- ensure the visitation rights of workers' family;
- prohibit the confiscation of passports;
- prevent violence and sexual harassment in the workplace; and
- crack down on illegal recruiters.

Bello lauded the signing of the pact but assured that the government will not only rely on this regional agreement. 

"Tayo ay hindi na aasa dun. Kapag hindi nabayaran ang sweldo ng migrant workers, we can go against the agency, kaya we have agencies para mayroon tayong hahabulin," Bello said.

Philippine government data show that a total of 212,435 Filipino migrant workers are employed in different countries across Southeast Asia, majority of whom are in Singapore and Malaysia.

AN ASEAN MILESTONE

An overseas worker for 3 decades now, Pastor Olidan is among the many Filipinos who have been a victim of abuse abroad.

"Tayo kasi nung una takot rin tayo madeport, mawalan ng trabaho, kailangan magtrabaho para sa pamilya, sakripisyo lang," he said.

"Meron nagkakaroon ng discrimination dahil nasa third world countries tayo, mababa pagtingin nila sa mga Pilipino" he added.

Olidan hopes that with the new ASEAN treaty, things will improve not just for Filipinos abroad but for all migrant workers.

Overseas workers' rights advocate Susan Ople shared Olidan's hopes, as she hailed the signing of the pact.

"This is the first time that the ASEAN community has agreed na magkakaroon sila ng action plan," she said of the agreement that
took a decade to reach.

Despite this, labor rights group Migrante International remains skeptical over the new accord, saying it is still unclear whether the consensus will be legally-binding, and whether it will also protect undocumented migrant workers.

"If the consensus still does not address these core issues, then President Duterte just signed a 'landmark' spoiler for migrants rights that, ironically, the Philippines has been contesting for 10 years now," Migrante said in a statement.