The Government of Myanmar estimates that some 4.25 million Myanmar nationals are living abroad. Of these, 89% work primarily in neighbouring Thailand. In a speech on 18th December 2018 marking International Migrants Day, Myint Swe, Vice President of the Republic of Union of Myanmar statedthat the government was responsible for ensuring the security and welfare of migrant workers in other countries. ‘We accept totally that the government is responsible for helping migrants to reach their destinations without suffering harm and to have migration that is safe, and has maximum benefit and minimum hardship’. He announced Myanmar was taking steps to minimise the exploitation of its citizens as migrant workers and to protect their rights and welfare, while acknowledging that the process was complicated and required cooperation of all governments.
Myanmar became a signatory of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December 2018. By adopting the Global Compact, governments worldwide commit to review existing recruitment mechanisms to guarantee that they are fair and ethical, including taking into consideration the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) framework. IRIS serves as a due diligence tool for the assessment of labour recruiters, and is currently piloting a voluntary certification system for ethical labour recruiters, to help identify and support ethical recruiters in global markets. It was developed by the IOM and a coalition of like-minded partners from government, civil society and the private sector to promote ethical international labour recruitment, which includes ensuring that employers, rather than workers, pay all recruitment fees. In November 2018, the IOM hosteda Yangon workshop on ethical recruitment standards and the IRIS certification process for members of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) and Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (MOLIP). The two-day event aimed to increase the recruiters’ understanding in adopting an ethical recruitment business model, and to become IRIS-certified.
Myanmar has also ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. While not legally binding, this agreement by ASEAN members stipulates general principles to safeguard the interests and welfare of migrant workers, including by prohibiting the overcharging of recruitment fees and confiscation of passports by recruiters or employers, and by ensuring migrants are able to join trade unions and associations.
Guna Subramaniam, Southeast Asia Consultant, Migrant Workers Programme, IHRB