Asean heads of government put signatures to an ‘Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers’ on 14 November 2017, at their recently concluded summit meeting in Manila. This document was ten years in the making, after Asean members first signalled their intention to arrive at an agreement of this nature in Cebu in 2007 (the  ‘Cebu Declaration’).

The Consensus document does not look as if it is binding.

A major feature of many of its clauses is that the ‘rights’ are subject to laws, regulations and policies of States. For example, Section 9 says:

Migrant workers have the right to hold their own passports and original government-issued work and personal documents subject to laws, regulations and policies of the Receiving State.

Section 12, another example, says:

Migrant workers have the right to freedom of movement in the Receiving State, subject to laws, regulations and policies of the Receiving State.

Section 15 says,

Subject to national laws, regulations and policies of the Receiving State, migrant workers have the right to fair treatment in the workplace.

Now that the Consensus document has been signed, the Asean Committee on Migrant Workers has to come up with an implementation roadmap.

Migrant Forum in Asia (, an alliance of NGOs of which TWC2 is a member, immediately called for a workshop to put together our thoughts and proposals for implementation. TWC2 sent a representative to participate in this workshop, held 24 and 25 November 2017 in Manila.

In several areas, it does not appear as if the Singapore government lives up to the agreement. For example, Section 13:

Migrant workers have the right to access information on matters pertaining to their employment and employment-related conditions from relevant authorities, bodies and/or recruitment agencies of Sending and Receiving States.

We’ve had a case where a migrant worker wanted a copy of the In-Principle Approval sent to him by the Ministry of Manpower. It was refused. The ministry told him he had no right to copies.

As another example, Section 32 says that:

The Receiving State will in accordance with its national legislations, regulations, and policies,

(b) take appropriate action against employers who illegally detain migrant workers;

(c) take appropriate action against employers who willfully destroy, mutilate, or confiscate a migrant worker’s passport and work permit isued by any government agency;

This website alone has many stories of workers confined by their employers to prevent them from reporting accidents to the Ministry, or confined in preparation for forced repatriation. In few cases do we hear of any follow-up action by the Singapore government that conforms with the above standard.

Migrant workers continue to have their passports taken away from them by their employers, as a matter of routine, virtually the day they arrive in Singapore. Even as we write, one of our clients is still waiting for the ministry to follow up on his request that the employer return his passport.

Nor do many workers hold their own original work permits. The employer holds it and all they have are photocopies. This practice is widespread, and if the situation continues, the Singapore government cannot be said to live up to the commitment made in the Consensus.

Clearly, much work remains to be done.