ASEAN to sign Consensus to protect, promote migrant workers' rights

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 13) — Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are moving to provide better protection for their migrant workers with an agreement they are set to approve on Tuesday.

"I am pleased to announce that ASEAN member states have come to an agreement on the ASEAN Consensus on the protection and promotion of rights of migrant workers," President Rodrigo Duterte announced at the opening ceremony of the 31st ASEAN Summit on Monday.

"I will be joining other ASEAN leaders tomorrow in signing this landmark document that would strengthen social protection, access to justice, humane and fair treatment, and access to health services for our people," he added.

To achieve this, the region's labor ministers will develop an action plan "to translate the ASEAN Consensus into concrete actions," according to a November 11 draft Chairman's Statement that will be released at the end of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila.

The agreement is considered a centerpiece of the country's chairmanship of ASEAN. 

The Philippines is a major labor exporter with some ten million Filipinos working abroad and contributing about 10 percent to the country's gross domestic product.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas shows overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) sent $17.9 billion (around P915 billion) to their families in the Philippines in the first seven months of 2017.

According to the World Bank, approximately $62 billion (P3 trillion) in remittances were sent to ASEAN in 2015.

The Consensus comes 10 years after the regional bloc adopted the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in Cebu in 2007.

A labor group, the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), praised the agreement.

"This is a positive step towards improving core labor and occupational safety and health standards on decent and humane treatment of ASEAN migrant workers and their families," ALU-TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said in a statement.

He said the group looked forward to the action plan and suggested a labor and workers' representatives be included in coming up with the roadmap.

"It is high time perhaps to establish common, uniform labor and working conditions standards in ASEAN to avoid the race to the bottom phenomenon among workers in a regional community aspiring to grow," Tanjusay said.

However, an alliance of OFWs, Migrante International, slammed the agreement as "watered down and useless" in a protest last week.