Opening address at the ASEAN conference on strengthening the protection and empowerment of women migrant workers

By Mr Lawrence Jeff Johnson, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the ASEAN conference on strengthening the protection and empowerment of women migrant workers, Pasig City, Philippines, 13 November 2014

Statement | Pasig City, Philippines | 12 November 2014
  • Honourable Secretary Baldoz of the Department of Labor and Employment,
  • Ms Versoza of the Philippine Commission on Women,
  • Distinguished representatives from the ASEAN Committee on Women, ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, ASEAN Trade Union Council, ASEAN Confederation of Employers, and Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers
  • Delegates from ASEAN member States
  • ILO and UN colleagues,
  • Ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga sa inyong lahat (good morning to all of you)!
Let me start by first thanking the organizers for inviting the ILO to be part of this conference.

As I’m sure you are all aware, it has been a year since Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, which affected lives, damaged properties and disrupted livelihoods.

I spent the weekend in Leyte and Tacloban to talk to people on the ground and to visit again affected areas. The ILO in partnership with DOLE and with the support of the international community, continue to reach out to affected communities.

Many of the people we spoke with in the first few weeks following the disaster, looked at migration as the only option.

We at the ILO are grateful to our partners, including ASEAN member States represented here today for all the support to build back better after Haiyan, while ensuring decent work and social protection are placed at the forefront of the recovery.

Today, gender advocates from 10 ASEAN member States are gathered to discuss gender-responsive migration policies and programmes.

Globally, there are about 232 million migrants. Of which, more than 111 million are women increasingly migrating for work based on 2013 UN estimates.

Within the ASEAN region, economic and demographic disparities are contributing to labour migration. This is primarily composed of low and medium skilled workers as cited in the recent ILO-ADB joint study on the ASEAN Economic Community.

The joint study highlighted the need to prioritize the following critical areas if countries are to secure the benefits of labour mobility:
  • ratifying, implementing and enforcing international Conventions;
  • extending the coverage and portability of social security; and
  • implementing the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.
ASEAN has facilitated the movement of highly-skilled labour within the region through the Mutual Recognition Arrangements.

Migration flows, however, are becoming increasingly complex. Disadvantaged and unskilled overseas migrant workers continue to face challenges.

The international community also recognized concerns of women migrant workers on gender inequalities and insufficient income opportunities at home that push them to leave their families and to work overseas.
This included vulnerabilities in relation to forced labour, low-skilled and vulnerable employment as well as lack of legal and social protection.

When people move out of choice and not out of necessity, they are less likely exposed to vulnerable and poor working conditions. Labour migration – if managed effectively both at receiving and sending countries - has the potential to contribute to inclusive and sustainable development.

Gender-responsive labour migration policies and measures can help address vulnerabilities, mostly experienced by women migrant workers to achieve socio-economic equality; avoid exploitation; give a voice in promoting rights; and use their income to develop opportunities for themselves and their home communities.

A crucial starting point for member States is to implement the principles under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and uphold the standards of non-discrimination and recognition of equality for all women.

This Convention calls on member States to protect and promote the human rights of women migrant workers. It includes ensuring that contracts are legally valid; migrant workers are covered by labour laws; and gender-responsive monitoring mechanisms are put in place.

To complement this international agreement on women, ILO conventions promote the creation of rights-based approaches and support enabling environments to respond to vulnerabilities.

Specifically, ILO's Migrant Workers Convention (No. 143) and the Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189).

This two-day conference brings together the ASEAN Committee on Women and ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) in a dialogue with member States represented today.

From this, we hope to see recommendations that will enhance ASEAN migration policies and programmes which can guide international and national – level policy makers

As we enter 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community will come fully into play. This should result to increased regional mobility and integration.

Ensuring equal protection for women and men migrant workers promotes economic equity and more efficient labour markets.

Your active participation is crucial to ensure that the outputs of this conference reflect and address labour migration challenges within the region.

ASEAN member States, together with employers’ and workers’ organizations, have important roles to play to ensure gender-responsive migration policies and programmes in both countries of origin and destination.

I look forward to your valuable inputs from lively and productive discussions. I wish you all a successful conference.

Thank you and Mabuhay!