Protecting Myanmar workers abroad: Random Jotting

  • By Sayar Mya (MOFA)
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A few days back, the author came across a news item reported by Myanmar News Agency in the Global New Light of Myanmar (18 August 2018) about the ordeal and repatriation of 14 stranded Myanmar migrant workers from Saudi Arabia. Amidst unfortunate conditions and problematic events in a foreign country, it was indeed a sad story, but the author is happy to learn that they arrived back safe and sound and now at home sweet home.
It was learnt that fourteen Myanmar migrant workers, who were denied getting final exit visa by their employers for leaving their jobs in Riyadh of Saudi Arabia, returned Yangon on 17 August 2018, after negotiation between Myanmar government and Saudi authorities.
In bringing them back, the Consular and Legal Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Myanmar Embassy in Riyadh, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population negotiated with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), employers of the workers and Saudi authorities.
The 14 workers are from a small group of 26 persons who left for Saudi Arabia since December 2010 to work there under a six-year contract with Dar Al Samara Est under General Contracting. Of them, one returned home with his own arrangement after the contract, but the remaining workers left their jobs before the terms of contract were completed due to lack of salary, threats and food issues.
Eleven workers returned home under their own arrangement, following the negotiations between the Myanmar Embassy and Saudi authorities. The last batch of 14 workers were exempted from paying tax, visa fees and fine, thanks to the negotiations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Saudi authorities. The IOM paid flight expenses for the workers.

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Myanmar stance on migrant workers
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called for improving Myanmar migrant workers’ access to education and healthcare services in Thailand during her talks with Thai Prime Minister Retired General Prayuth Chanocha at the Government House in Thailand on 23 June 2016.
In his response, the Thai Prime Minister said that measures will be taken to give Myanmar migrant workers the rights to equal treatment as Thai workers, saying that 500 million Baht have been allocated to all migrant workers to access education and 500 million Baht for healthcare services.
In her speech, the State Counsellor requested the Thai Prime Minister to allow Myanmar migrant workers to work legally in Thailand as soon as possible and to protect Myanmar migrants working on fishing boats against human trafficking and torture by local authorities.

People-centered policy
In order to clarify the trajectory of Myanmar’s foreign policy, a formal foreign policy pronouncement was issued in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw on 22 April 2016, where State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pledged that the government would adopt a people-centered policy, emphasizing the relations between peoples of different countries, and creating friendly and cooperative relations among them.

Safeguarding the Myanmar nationals
While meeting with 18 Myanmar ambassadors from the Asian Region in Nay Pyi Taw on 14 June 2016, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged them to work for the country through dynamic diplomacy and to protect and to save from harm Myanmar nationals on social and humanitarian grounds.
During the historic visit to London in September 2016, the State Counsellor met with 12 Myanmar ambassadors assigned in countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. During the meeting, the State Counsellor clarified priorities in Myanmar as well as the country’s foreign policy, saying that Myanmar has friendly relations with all countries in the world, practicing the non-aligned policy. She urged the diplomats to give protection to Myanmar citizens in the countries in which they are assigned and to protect the interests of Myanmar. She also clarified undertakings for development of the political, economic and social sectors of the country.

Filipino migrant workers
While serving abroad for over 16 years in the Myanmar Foreign Service, the writer has noticed the systematic and pragmatic approach of the diplomats from the Philippines in protecting and safeguarding their nationals. This submission of observation regarding the Philippines authorities does not necessarily mean to undermine our own existing methods and procedures, because they are “so far so good”. However, the writer would like to share some positive outlooks of our neighbor.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is an agency of the Government of the Philippines responsible for overseeing the benefits of the overseas employment program of the Philippines. It is the main government agency assigned to monitor and supervise recruitment agencies in the Philippines. The POEA’s office is located at EDSA corner Ortigas Avenue, Mandaluyong City, Philippines.
The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 instituted State policies of overseas employment and established standards for protection and promotion of welfare for migrant workers and their families, and for overseas Filipinos in distress. Regarding deployment of migrant workers, the act mandates, “The State shall deploy overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected.”

Deployment restrictions
On 1 November 2011, the POEA Governing Board (GB) published GB Resolution No. 7, which specifies a list of 41 countries where OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) cannot be deployed for non-compliance with the guarantees required under R.A. 10022. In section (1) of R.A. 10022, it is mentioned that the State shall, at all times, uphold the dignity of its citizens whether in country or overseas, in general, and Filipino migrant workers, in particular, continuously monitor international conventions, adopt/be signatory to and ratify those that guarantee protection to migrant workers, and endeavor to enter into bilateral agreements with countries hosting overseas Filipino workers.
As of November 2011, the POEA lists 125 countries as being accommodating with the guarantees required under R.A. 10022.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has reaffirmed on 21 July 2018 its commitment to the administration’s reforms, as President Duterte delivered his third State of the Nation Address.
In a statement, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said his department is “steadfast in according full protection to workers by ensuring job security pursuant to the directive of the President.”
Bello said the DOLE has taken initiatives to pursue the effective implementation of the workers rights to security of tenure and “eliminate practices that circumvent and avoid the law prohibiting illegal contractual arrangements.”
The department also stated it has established 18 One-Stop Service Centers for overseas Filipino workers across the country, which integrates frontline services of key government agencies.

Repatriation is indeed not a big deal
In conclusion, the author of this article would like to quote what Secretary Bello has argued.
“We have likewise repatriated almost 22,000 migrant workers in distress since 2016,” Bello said.
The department also noted it has signed bilateral labor agreements with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Cambodia, to strengthen the protection on migrant workers.
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a United Nations multilateral treaty governing the protection of migrant workers and families. Signed on 18 December 1990, it entered into force on 1 July 2003 after the threshold of 20 ratifying States was reached in March 2003. The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) monitors implementation of the convention, and is one of the seven UN-linked human rights treaty bodies.
All persons, regardless of their nationality, race, legal or other status, are entitled to fundamental human rights and basic labor protections, including migrant workers and their families. Migrants are also entitled to certain human rights and protections specifically linked to their vulnerable status.
Allow me to conclude by saying, “Let us protect our migrant workers” as much as we could.

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