212,000 OFWs to gain from Asean labor accord
At least 212,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stand to benefit from a landmark pact signed by the 10 heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) during their summit in Manila on Monday.
Under the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, Asean governments vowed to guarantee fair treatment and protection against abuse of migrant workers from neighboring countries.
The agreement, which took 10 years to negotiate, was signed by leaders of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, which chairs the bloc this year.
The Philippines, among the major sources of migrant workers in the region and the world, initiated the agreement when it last chaired Asean in 2007 and hosted the leaders’ summit in Cebu.
The Asean consensus “establishes a framework for cooperation” in the region to safeguard the welfare of migrant workers, said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
It seeks, among other things, to:
• Uphold the fair treatment of migrant workers regardless of gender and nationality
• Provide for visitation rights by family members
• Prohibit the confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees
• Protect against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace
• Regulate labor recruiters
• Respect the right of workers to fair and appropriate remuneration and benefits and their right to join trade unions and associations
Cooperation vs abuses
The Asean consensus also strengthens regional cooperation in preventing abuses, exploitation and violence against migrant workers, the DFA said.
“In cases where Filipino migrant workers are imprisoned, they will have rights no less favorable than those applied to the local workers,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.
Bello said the workers “also have the right to file grievances with the relevant authorities” in the host countries.
Based on government records, there were at least 212,435 Filipino migrant workers in Southeast Asia last year, a majority of whom were employed in Singapore and Malaysia.
The DFA said the implementation of the Asean consensus “will be subject to the respective laws of the member-countries.”
An “action plan” will be developed to implement the mandate given by the Asean leaders, it said.
While the pact was signed by Asean leaders on Monday, it was finalized by senior labor officials on Aug. 25 during their meeting in Manila.
“This is a centerpiece of our chairmanship and we are actually quite pleased that we have come full circle,” said DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar.
An official of the Catholic Church welcomed the agreement.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos called the deal “caring and helpful” toward Filipino migrant workers.
“This manifests their concern and compassion of plight for our migrant workers,” said Santos, who also chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
The bishop also lauded the Asean member-states for their “common and unified stand” to ensure that “the rights and privileges of all migrant workers will be protected, promoted and respected.”
The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) said the signing of the agreement was a positive step toward improved labor and occupational safety standards among Asean states.
“We commend President Duterte for putting in the forefront of the summit the welfare of 10 million migrant workers in Asean by ensuring that the consensus is signed among the first in the order of business,” its spokesperson, Alan Tanjusay, said in a statement.
The ALU-TUCP said it was looking forward to the formulation of an action plan in 2018 that would compel Asean-receiving or -sending countries to improve their labor and occupational safety and health standards for migrant workers.
Integration, CPD law
He noted that the current Asean integration process was void of a uniform core labor standards and occupational safety and health standards.
The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Act was passed in the Philippines as part of the country’s efforts to comply with Asean integration.
The law requires all professionals to earn 45 CPD units by attending seminars and workshops before their licenses are renewed. They also need the CPD units so they could practice in other member-states of Asean.
This is to ensure that the license holders are up to date in new knowledge, technology and skills.
As far as the Professional Regulation Commission is concerned, it’s all systems go for the full implementation of the CPD system, except for the allocation of P100 million to keep it going. —With reports from Aie Balagtas See, Tina G. Santos and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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