The event aimed to improve awareness and experience sharing among the countries’ Governments, businesses and labourers about opportunities and challenges facing migrant workers in the ASEAN Community.
It also looked to work towards a flexible common approach in bilateral and multilateral labour cooperation to realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals, boost a win-win labour partnership between Vietnam and Thailand, and advocate Thailand’s new policy on enhancing collaboration in the field among Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The conference was chaired by Vietnamese Ambassador to Thailand Nguyen Tat Thanh and Permanent Secretary at the Thai Ministry of Labour Puntrik Smiti. It saw the presence of representatives of the ASEAN Secretariat, the UN permanent representative in Thailand, the International Labour Organisation, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Participants agreed that labour is an increasingly important sphere of cooperation in ASEAN, particularly amid the newly founded ASEAN Community. However, the awareness of this issue varies among regional Governments, and enterprises and workers, especially those in mainland ASEAN. Millions of people from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are working in Thailand.
Data given at the conference shows that there are now 6.8 million migrant workers in the region, and 81% of them are working in Thailand. Meanwhile, a majority of the labourers have low or average qualifications.
Legal barriers along with a lack of labour cooperation agreements have also complicated matters.
Maria Nenette Motus, the IOM’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, said the negotiation of labour cooperation agreements usually takes too much time and expense. High fees and red tape often prevent low qualified labourers from entering other countries to work through official channels.
She warned that tens of thousands of people seeking illegal ways to work in Thailand could lead to human trafficking, forced labour and violations of other human rights.
At the conference, experts suggested increasing skill training for migrant workers and raising their awareness of abiding by local laws and custom.
In December 2015, the Thai Ministry of Labour licensed for the first time 1,500 Vietnamese people to work in construction, domestic help and hospitality.