Migrant workers in Asia, particularly those on temporary contracts, often mix very little with the host community. As a result they can face discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. Greater integration even on a temporary basis would help protect their rights.
Most labour migration in Asia is temporary, on fixed-term contracts. In some cases, as in Malaysia, for example, there may be communities with similar ethnic or linguistic backgrounds. But generally migrant workers get few opportunities to integrate with the host community. This isolation can foster racial and other forms of discrimination — leaving migrants with relatively little support when they get into difficulties.
The problems are usually less for skilled workers. Indeed governments may give them special attention in order to encourage them to stay. In Singapore, for example, workers with desirable skills can benefit from the the government's Social Integration Management Service.
But unskilled workers get less support. While they may not wish to encourage workers to stay, governments can still make efforts to ensure that workers are as integrated as possible. They can, for example, train managers in the skills required to manage a multi-ethnic workforce. They can also provide opportunities for lessons on language
and culture, or simply make sure that health and safety and other notices are available in languages that the migrants understand.
This is an area where trade unions can make a very positive contribution. In the Republic of Korea, for example, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has started organizing migrant workers and invites them to participate in its rallies. There have also been many
joint activities between trade unions and NGOs concerned with migrant issues, such as the
Joint Committee for Migrant Workers. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress also supports the rights of migrant workers, even though migrants, as a condition of their work permits, are not allowed to join a Malaysian trade union.
Support for integration in the destination countries can also come from local organizations of migrant workers, such as Tenaganita in Malaysia, or the St. Francis of Assisi Workers Centre in Singapore. When migrants are organized and have networks of information and social support they are less likely to suffer from exploitation.
What the ILO can offer
The ILO has assisted with the international networking of trade unions. It has, for example, helped link Malaysia’s MCTU with unions in Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines; and the Korean trade unions with those in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.
The ILO also helps unions and other organizations establish national mechanisms of social dialogue on migration. In addition, we facilitate the participation of social partners in relevant international forums and prepare relevant educational materials.