Jakarta. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, on Tuesday (14/11) signed a highly anticipated agreement on the protection and promotion of migrant workers' rights in the region, which will pave way for the bloc to begin formulating a plan of action for the implementation of the specified rights.
The agreement covers principles of fair treatment of migrant workers, visitation rights by family members, a prohibition against the confiscation of passports and overcharging, protection against workplace violence and sexual harassment and regulating recruiters as part of an effort to better protect workers.
The Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers is a follow-up document to the Cebu Declaration, which was adopted in January 2007.
According to Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri, the agreement "opens a long deadlock on the discussion of this issue."
"This is a progressive decision to increase the protection of migrant workers' rights in Asean," Hanif said, as quoted in a press release issued by the Ministry of Manpower.
The document reportedly took 10 years to finalize because member states could not agree on the legal nature of the document, the protection of undocumented workers and the coverage of migrant workers' families.
Indonesia and the Philippines consider undocumented migrant workers a human rights issue. However, destination countries such as Malaysia and Singapore believe that undocumented workers pose threats to their national security.
Under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration, Indonesia has been more eager to guard the process of the consensus, believing that the impact of migrant workers' protection will be bring a wave of relief at home.
In spite of the much-awaited progress, the agreement signed on Tuesday is not legally binding.
"It aims to establish a framework for closer cooperation among member states on addressing migrant workers' issues in the region," the Asean Secretariat said in a statement.
However, Jakarta-based rights group Migrant Care urged Asean leaders to "push an instrument for the protection of migrant workers in the form of an Asean Convention that will be legally binding."
Migrant Care also emphasized the need for an Asean commission on the protection of migrant workers to ensure justice and human rights protection for migrant workers in the region.