International Migrants Day (18 December)

When something goes wrong: the challenge for migrant workers

By Gyorgy Sziraczki, Director of ILO Country Office for Viet Nam

Comment | 18 December 2014
Like so many workers across the ASEAN region, every year tens of thousands of workers leave Viet Nam to find work abroad. They leave with a sense of opportunity for their future and in pursuit of decent work.

However, for many workers opportunity is coupled with complex challenges such as knowing where to go for help when something goes wrong.

According to the baseline report conducted in 2011 by the International Labour Organization (ILO), none of the potential migrants surveyed knew about the detailed costs for migration or the Government’s regulations on service charges, brokerage fees and refunds. Half of the 300 respondents did not even know which channels they should migrate through and 95 per cent were not aware of their right to keep their passports when abroad.

The ability of migrant workers to access complaint mechanisms is an issue which continues to receive increased recognition. It creates complex issues for all relevant stakeholders and in Viet Nam has recently been the subject of a draft Prime Minister’s decree.

When Vietnamese migrant workers are underpaid, exploited or injured at work, progressing a complaint can be a difficult or lengthy process for both workers and local authorities. Potential barriers to workers making a complaint include a lack of understanding of their rights, uncertainty about which authority to contact for assistance, the high costs involved, or fear of an adverse response from their employer such as reduced work hours.

Workers may also encounter difficulties in compiling evidence to support a claim. This may be due to the absence of a written contract, discrepancies between contracts signed by workers in Viet Nam and those provided to them in their destination country, or other issues such as low language proficiency.

Local Vietnamese authorities may also face issues in knowing how to effectively manage a complaint and coordinate with relevant stakeholders. In particular, there is also an important role for recruitment agencies to play in providing timely and fulsome information to assist with the management of a complaint.

Under the GMS TRIANGLE project (to protect migrant workers within and from the Greater Mekong Sub-region from labour exploitation), the ILO has been working with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the Viet Nam Association for Judicial Support for the Poor (VJASP) to consider existing complaints mechanism for migrant workers and how the legal framework can be strengthened. The preliminary results of this survey, conducted by VJASP and MOLISA, show that among the early return migrant workers surveyed who had difficulties abroad, almost 30 per cent decided not to proceed with making a complaint as they did not know where to lodge it or believed they would not be supported.

Approximately 30 per cent of workers who submitted a complaint to a recruitment agency or local authority did receive a response, however, 100 per cent of that group found the requests not settled to their satisfaction.

International Migrants Day (18 December) is a time to reflect not only on the important role migration plays but also the challenges it presents when workers raise issues about their working arrangements or conditions. In continuing to address these challenges, all stakeholders should work to ensure the protection of workers and see increased benefits across the region.