PHNOM PENH — The deaths of 39 migrants found dead last month in the back of a truck in the United Kingdom were a grim and tragic reminder that, despite Asia’s world-beating growth rates, poverty and low pay continue to push people to risk their lives to work overseas. Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has quintupled to US$2,563 over the last 15 years, buoyed by one of the world’s fastest growing economies, but all 39 dead were economic migrants who had left impoverished areas of central and northern Vietnam in search of more gainful employment abroad. As with elsewhere in Asia, these rural regions are dominated by the so-called informal economy, outside of the reach of government protection and regulation. Based on estimates published last year by the World Bank, 47% of all employment in the East Asia and Pacific Region is informal.
JAKARTA — Wages in Asia grew by an average of 3.5% last year, nearly ten times faster than the 0.4% increase seen among the wealthiest members of the Group of 20 countries, whose leaders will meet in Argentina later this week. Driven largely by Asian economies and China in particular, wages in the G-20’s emerging or developing economies — including Indonesia and India — have tripled overall in the two decades since the Asian financial crisis, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization. The disparity between developed countries such as Japan — where wages declined by 0.4% last year — and less-developed countries in Asia, is partly due to emerging economies growing much faster and enjoying lower inflation than other emerging or developing regions such as Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
JAKARTA — Despite decades of world-beating economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into middle class life, around 900 million more Asian workers remain in what the International Labour Organization deems “vulnerable” employment. Vulnerable employment refers to people who lack formal work arrangements or contracts, are often nonsalaried and working part-time in sectors such as agriculture or retail, and are sometimes self-employed. Such workers often can be fired without much notice and subsequently have no access to unemployment benefit.
JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.
LAIZA — The Burmese army is using underage boys for forced labour and is coercing porters to fight on the front line against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to accounts given to The Irrawaddy by four teenagers who say they served as porters for the army. Two of the four say they are under 18, and two others, age 18 and 19, say they were forced to march in front of infantry as the soldiers approached KIO/KIA positions. All four say they were coerced into joining the Tatmadaw (the name for the Burmese army) after being promised jobs by army officers, at different locations and at different times during 2011. Burma’s government forces have long been accused of forcing civilians to work as porters and for using child soldiers in its campaigns against ethnic militias in the country’s borderlands. According to January 2012 figures, since 2007 there have been 1,160 forced labour complaints registered with the International Labour Organization, which recently agreed with the Burmese government to renew its complaints process for another year.