ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML)

The 11thAFML held in Singapore on 29-30 October 2018, adopted the theme ‘Digitalisation to Promote Decent Work for Migrant Workers in ASEAN’. The two sub-themes are ‘digitalisation of migrant labour management’ and ‘digital services to migrant workers’. The AFML is an activity under the ASEAN committee on the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) Work Plan 2016-2020. The present objective is to improve labour migration management and provide digital services for migrant workers. The general objectives of the AFML are:

  1. To share stakeholder experiences, challenges and good practices in the implementation of AFML recommendations.
  2. To examine in detail, the obligations of both countries of origin and destination.
  3. To draft and agree on new recommendations arising from discussions of the thematic sessions.

Every year, the ten states hold preparatory workshops at their respective national levels, as precursors to this forum. The objectives of these workshops have been standard and consistent over the years:

  1. Take stock of stakeholders’ progress in implementing the recommendations fo previous AFMLs.
  2. Discuss the current AFML theme, as well as prepare national recommendations to promote decent work for migrant workers in ASEAN as duly endorsed by the national tripartite partners.
  3. Develop a report or set of positions that the AFML delegates can use at the current AFML.

The interesting aspect of the AFML is the nature of the inclusion of stakeholders from civil society, the employers’ sector and the workers’ sector. All of them are appointed by the ten state governments. The details of the basis of these appointments are not available. The process of making such appointments is also unavailable. It would thus be difficult to gauge if there is an unbiased representation of stakeholders. Moreover, they could be obliged to speak in favour of their respective government’s labour initiatives. There is no indication of the inclusion of independent experts on migrant labour, independent non-governmental organisations and independent pools of migrant workers.

It is important to collaborate and take stock of the implementation of previous recommendations. However, the question of an effective enforcement mechanism still prevails, in the event of non-implementation. ACMW’s credibility could be compromised if it does not exercise due regulation and enforcement. Similarly, ASEAN’s inclusive approach via non-interference and consensus could compromise the role of its many collaborations. There is another grey area. The ‘how’ of the implementation of recommendations is not specified. Without a proper, structured mechanism for implementation in each state, the likelihood of effective implementation is low.

Each state should employ self-regulating measures so that when the time comes to take stock of implementation, it would be clear if all options have been explored; if all measures have been exhausted. It must also be appreciated that each state is at a different developmental stage and has a different level of resource. The degree of implementation will vary across ASEAN and the assistance of the more digitalised and developed economies within its jurisdiction should be sought so that no one is left behind. Designing a policy is essential. There is substantial work constantly being done in this area. To put the policy to practice is a different issue altogether. For any improvement, this process needs to be evaluated in detail in order to accurately identify shortcomings and challenges. There is a need for regulation at the national and regional levels.

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