Ecumenicals voice for rights of migrant workers

An ecumenical conference on migrant workers from Asia is calling on more countries to ratify United Nations and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on the rights of migrant workers

The regional ecumenical workshop took place from 25 to 27 October in Bangkok, Thailand, and was organised by the Commission of Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Justice and International Affairs programme of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

The workshop addressed various aspects of migrant workers' rights, focusing on ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Migrant Workers (C-189).

A previous consultation on rights of migrant workers was held in May this year.

A number of women participants representing various national ecumenical councils in Asia noted that the number of female migrant workers is on the increase in the region. This trend has paved the way for exploitation and an increase in human trafficking. They were referring to several Asian countries where 95 percent of domestic migrant workers are women.

Presenters spoke about issues migrant workers face in Asia and the Arabian Gulf countries. They noted that national labour laws often do not apply to the domestic migrant workers; hence they remain an invisible workforce with little or no legal protection at all.

"The lack of legal protection makes domestic migrant workers more vulnerable to domestic servitude at the hands of recruitment and placement agencies in sending countries and ultimately at the hands of their employers," said Rev Yohanna Taruk in the workshop.

Taruk herself was a domestic migrant worker in Hong Kong, and now serves as a pastor of the Toraja Church in Indonesia.

Despite the fact that labour migration serves the economic interests of both sending and receiving countries, most Asian countries have not yet ratified the 1990 UN convention on the rights of migrant workers, the participants observed.

"The adoption of the ILO convention on the rights of domestic workers is a breakthrough for millions of exploited domestic migrant workers, yet the implementation is a key to ensure that workers in precarious jobs have an effective access to decent work," said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA.

"The Philippines is the only country in Asia which has ratified the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Migrant Workers," he added.