ASEAN parliamentarians draw attention to Burma’s migrant workers
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ASEAN parliamentarians draw attention to Burma’s migrant workers

Leading ASEAN MPs and members of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) have made a three-day fact-finding mission from February 23-25 to raise awareness on issues surrounding migrant labour in the region, particularly of Burmese migrants in Thailand.

AIPMC members and politicians from around the region met with local NGOs and government officials in Thailand today and yesterday as part of a three-day fact-finding and awareness-raising mission. The activity aims to draw attention to the lack of social protection mechanisms for Burmese migrant workers who are some of the most vulnerable and exploited members of ASEAN societies.

Present at the meetings were Mr. Kraisak Choonhavan, AIPMC Vice-President; Mr. Muhammad Gamari Sutrisno, Indonesian MP; Dr. Nova Riyanti Yusuf, Indonesian MP; and Congressman Walden Bello, a leading intellectual activist representing the Akbayan party in the Philippines Congress, and Chairman of the Congressional Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.

They met with local NGOs and government officials in Phang Nga, including workers from the Federation for Education and Development (FED) and a host of other NGOs that work in the areas of human rights, health, education and other sectors relevant to migrant workers.

The AIPMC press release called on ASEAN and its member governments, as well as international organizations, to take urgent and concrete measures to ensure the protection and rights of migrant workers across the region.

The AIPMC in its statement mentions the issue of insufficient protections along with abuse of migrant workers and their children. The issue has long been one of concern but takes on greater importance ahead of the planned ASEAN Community in 2015 since it hopes to promote the free movement of labour among ASEAN member states.

“Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, like others across the region, are not protected by laws that guarantee the basic rights of other citizens, and face considerable difficulties, dangers and abuses on a regular basis,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, president of AIPMC and Indonesian member of parliament.

“There are the lessons that Burma can take from the Philippine experience – even if you have elections and democracy, but you do not have social reform and major economic policy that does not promote development and if you do not have an effective family planning program, you could end up with the situation we have in the Philippines right now, with over 10 million Filipinos working outside of the country,” Walden Bello warned.

Bello went on to say that the visit of the MPs to meet with NGOs, government officials, Burmese migrant workers as well as their Thai employers, had all helped give a sense of the very real difficulties faced by migrant workers as a largely undocumented labour force, as well as bringing into perspective the massive contribution they make to the Thai economy.

As Thailand has become more prosperous, fewer Thai people are willing to work in jobs which are commonly known as “dirty, dangerous, and demeaning”, and Burmese nationals have arrived in Thailand in increasing numbers to fill the labour shortage.

According to the press release, there are an estimated 2.5 million legal and illegal migrant workers in Thailand. Of those, roughly 80 percent are from Burma.

Burmese migrant workers make up an essential section of the Thai economy and workforce. Several thousands of Burmese migrant workers are engaged in different sectors of Thai industry, including fisheries, manufacturing, domestic and construction work, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture.

However, MPs and the attending NGO representatives pointed out the constant complaints and fears that migrant workers face on a daily basis and that much still needs to be done at the local, national and international level.

“The Indonesian government cares about its workers outside of the country, whereas the Myanmar government does not. Burmese migrants are relying on NGOs and themselves to give them leverage. It is ASEAN’s responsibility to stand up for these workers,” said Indonesian MP Nova Riyanti Yusuf.

He also made a remark that NGOs funding efforts only inside the country will not help the country’s economic reform. Burma’s democratization alone will not stop economic migration if international organizations do not maintain their supporting works for migrant workers out of the country.