Vietnamese ‘irregular’ migrant workers at high risk

(VOV) - Since the inception of the economic reforms in the 1980s, one-clear objective of the Vietnam government has been to use labour migration as a strategy to increase employment and reduce poverty.

One of the hallmarks of that strategy has been the licensing of both state-owned and private recruitment agencies to manage the flow of overseas migration and ensure that the rights of workers are adequately protected.

Over 106,000 workers moved abroad in 2014 alone, according to the Department of Overseas Labour, Ministry of Invalids and Social Affairs (DOLAB). The figure was 56,173 for the first half of this year and is expected to surpass 110,000 this year.

However, increasingly OVs workers are being recruited to work in foreign markets utilizing ‘irregular’ methods outside the boundaries of licensed recruitment agencies, according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Use of such independent methods of securing overseas employment means that workers are recruited outside the parameters of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on labour migration negotiated by the government and without using a licensed recruitment agency.

In addition large numbers of irregular workers initially undertook employment using regular channels but have overstayed their visa or breached visa conditions and are now working in foreign markets absent a valid work permit.

vietnamese ‘irregular’ migrant workers at high risk  hinh 0

This rise in the number of irregular migrants has resulted in no clear institutional legal framework to provide these workers support services that safeguard their rights while working overseas, the ILO report concluded.

Destinations where no MoUs are in place

To obtain a better understanding of the plight of irregular migrant workers the Department of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (DoLISA) in Thanh Hoa and Ha Tinh conducted two surveys.

According to the surveys, since 1992 the government has entered into over 20 MoUs with foreign countries, yet the survey responses indicated that workers have travelled to over 60 destinations to undertake employment in a range of occupations.

Accordingly, the surveys on their face provide clear and convincing evidence the magnitude of irregular OVs workers in foreign countries is high.

The destinations included travel to African nations (notably Angola – 1,337 workers) and a number of European countries (the most popular being Germany – 368 workers).

The surveys estimated that in total there are roughly 18,000 OVs irregular migrants who travel to the European Union, and many of these workers are facilitated by smugglers.

The majority of these migrant workers are employed in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs, principally in the construction, manufacturing or domestic worker industries.

According to the surveys the number of Vietnamese who have gone to India for work is unknown given the open border between the two countries, but officials believe the figure is in the millions.

Within the Southeast Asian region, workers are travelling in considerable numbers to destinations where no MoUs are in place, for example Thailand (6,108, including workers for whom gender was not recorded).

The lack of a formal framework governing migration between the survey provinces and Thailand or China is of particular note given the growth in migrant workers travelling to these countries.

Migration to Thailand is more established than with most other destinations with migrants primarily working in restaurants (16%) and domestic work (10%), according to the surveys.

Signing more agreements

The ILO report applauds the government’s strategy of using labour migration as a strategy to reduce poverty, and believes rectifying the irregular migrant worker situation has the potential to directly support the objective of the policy.

The ILO report concluded with seven recommendations but foremost among them is the urgent need to develop formal bilateral agreements or MoUs with key destination economies.

The lack of these aforementioned formal agreements combined with the lack of information in the plight of OV migrant workers leaves them at high risk of exploitation, the report concludes.