A non-government organization that specializes on labor and migration issues urged the International Labor Organization to closely monitor and help verify reports of abuses in the handling of Filipino migrant workers and deportees by Malaysian authorities as the Sabah crisis continues.
“We wish to appeal to the ILO to work with member-states — Malaysia and the Philippines — in ensuring that the rights and welfare of migrant workers in conflict-affected communities in Sabah are upheld at all times,” former labor undersecretary Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said.
The Ople Center expressed concern that migrant workers’ rights especially those of women and children are being set aside in favor of tougher internal security measures being undertaken by Malaysian authorities.
“The ILO, as the sentinel of workers around the world, has the technical expertise and sufficient mechanisms to promote better understanding between the two countries on how a joint humanitarian assistance program for distressed Filipino migrant workers in Sabah can be achieved,” Ople said.
The daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople noted that the Philippine government has been consistent in using diplomatic channels to maintain bilateral cooperation with Malaysia amid the worsening Sabah crisis.
“The right of Malaysia to protect its citizens is uncontestable. But, as UN and ILO members, both countries have an international obligation to work closely together in ensuring fair and humane treatment of foreign workers particularly in conflict-affected communities within Sabah,” the OFW advocate said.
She noted that while Malaysia has yet to ratify the ILO Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers’ Rights, it is a signatory to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers that was adopted by heads of states on January 2007 during the 12th ASEAN Summit held in Cebu City. The heads of state that signed the declaration included Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Under the ASEAN Declaration, labor-receiving states, pursuant to their prevailing laws, regulations and policies, will:
“5. Intensify efforts to protect the fundamental human rights, promote the welfare and uphold human dignity of migrant workers;
6. Work towards the achievement of harmony and tolerance between receiving states and migrant workers;
7. Facilitate access to resources and remedies through information, training and education, access to justice, and social welfare services as appropriate and in accordance with the legislation of the receiving state, provided that they fulfill the requirements under applicable laws, regulations and policies of the said state, bilateral agreements and multilateral treaties;
8. Promote fair and appropriate employment protection, payment of wages, and adequate access to decent working and living conditions for migrant workers;
9. Provide migrant workers, who may be victims of discrimination, abuse, exploitation, violence, with adequate access to the legal and judicial system of the receiving states; and,
10. Facilitate the exercise of consular functions to consular or diplomatic authorities of states of origin when a migrant worker is arrested or committed to prison or custody or detained in any other manner, under the laws and regulations of the receiving state and in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.” (Note: numbering is as stated in the ASEAN Declaration)
Ople said it’s also about time that ASEAN take a special interest in the Sabah crisis. “The international community and organizations such as the ILO and ASEAN should follow the lead of the UN Secretary-General in pushing for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sabah. Asia’s regional economy is a source of global prosperity. An escalation of the Sabah crisis, heightened risks in the Korean peninsula and unresolved territorial disputes with China may affect opportunities for further regional growth and development.”