Labour migration

ILO: Social protection coverage has improved in ASEAN, but migrant workers remain among the least protected

Despite considerable progress made in the expansion of social security coverage of migrant workers in ASEAN, migrant workers remain among the least protected, says the International Labour Organization (ILO) in a new study.

News | 18 December 2018
Bangkok (ILO news): Released for International Migrants Day on 18 December, the report Social protection for migrant workers in ASEAN: Developments, challenges and prospects provides a comprehensive review of national legislation and policy on social protection for migrant workers in ASEAN.

This study provides a much needed policy baseline for further efforts to improve social protection for migrant workers in the region."

Ms. Marja Paavilainen, Senior Programme Officer of TRIANGLE in ASEAN

Progress made but challenges remain

Latest data shows that 6.9 million ASEAN nationals have migrated within ASEAN. The review states that significant progress has been made in expanding social security coverage of migrant workers over the last 10-20 years. A wider range of social security benefits is available to migrant workers today, the reach of existing measures has extended, and the nature of benefits has been improved.

Ms. Marja Paavilainen, Senior Programme Officer, ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN, says "Despite improvements, migrant workers remain among the least protected in the region. Migrant workers’ access to social protection in the ASEAN region is fraught with many challenges. They often work in economic sectors not covered by social security, such as domestic work, or in small enterprises exempted from providing social protection to their employees. When they are entitled, social protection is often provided through separate schemes that offers less protection and benefits than those available to national workers. Migrant workers are also often unable to meet the eligibility criteria for long-term benefits, such as old-age pension. This is further compounded by administrative barriers and the limited time migrant workers have to claim and finalize social security benefits upon termination of employment. Finally, arrangements for portability of social security that could ease some of these challenges are absent between ASEAN Member States."

ASEAN recognizes social protection as a human right

The ASEAN Member States commitment to social protection for all ASEAN nationals is reflected in the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection (2013) which states that social protection is a basic human right to which everyone is entitled to have equal access. It also specifically lists migrant workers as a vulnerable group. Some progress in improving social protection for migrant workers has also been made in activities of the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant workers (ACMW). Among others, the 9th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML) in 2016 adopted a set of recommendations on extending social protection for migrant workers and working towards the portability of social security of migrant workers in ASEAN.

The way forward

The study emphasizes that a combination of unilateral, bilateral and multilateral interventions are needed to improve migrant workers’ access to social security in ASEAN. It calls for countries of destination to remove nationality discrimination impacting access to social security, and countries of origin to extend social security to their nationals abroad. A recent positive development in this respect has been inclusion of migrant workers in the Malaysian social security (SOCSO).

In addition, bilateral social security agreements are needed to streamline the social security position of migrant workers. A positive step towards this is the ACMW study on portability of social protection led by Thailand Social Security Office (SSO), which scopes feasibility for bilateral social security agreements between ASEAN Member States. There is also a need for a regional instrument that will provide a framework for social protection of migrant workers in ASEAN.

With a continued regional economic integration, labour migration will most likely increase during the coming years. Considering the growing elderly population in the region, effective coverage of migrant workers can improve the sustainability of social security systems in ASEAN, as people who choose to migrate for work are often young and healthy.

The study is a result of collaboration between the ILO, the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Member States. It was commissioned by the ILO and undertaken by Professor Marius Olivier, Director, International Institute for Social Law and Policy (IISLP), Adjunct-Professor, School of Law, University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth, Australia, and Extraordinary Professor, Faculty of Law, Northwest University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Funding of the report was provided by the ILO/TRIANGLE in ASEAN programme and the ILO/Japan Project Promoting and Building Social Protection in Asia. TRIANGLE in ASEAN is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the ILO.

More information:

Ms. Helene Thor
Communication and Advocacy officer
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific