Why are we celebrating International Migration Day today?
In 1997, Filipino and other Asian migrant organizations promoted the 18th of December as an International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. This date was chosen because it was on December 18, 1990 that the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This year, International Migrant's Day marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention.
Why is this Convention important?
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families extends protection to migrants and members of their families worldwide. Its importance may be highlighted by these points:
The Convention recognizes the critical role that migration plays in the global economy.
The Convention identifies migrants and members of their families as vulnerable individuals whose human rights need protection, and are entitled to the enjoyment of such rights regardless of their legal status.
The Convention provides a set of international standards to address the treatment, welfare and rights of migrant workers and members of their families, and the obligations and responsibilities of governments involved.
The international community has, for the first time, an international definition of what a migrant worker is - one that recognizes both men and women as migrants.
Migrant workers are considered more than laborers or economic entities. They are social entities with families.
The Convention emphasizes that all migrant workers, whether in a documented or undocumented situation, are to be accorded fundamental human rights.
The Convention also extends the concept of "equality of treatment" for migrant workers and members of their families who are non-nationals in States of employment to be treated equally.
It seeks to establish minimum standards of protection in legal, political, economic, civil, social and cultural rights for migrant workers.
Overall, the Convention seeks to play a role in preventing and eliminating the exploitation of all migrant workers and members of their families throughout the entire migration process. In particular, it seeks to put an end to the illegal or clandestine recruitment and trafficking of migrant workers and to discourage the employment of migrant workers in an irregular or undocumented situation.
Who is a migrant worker according to the Convention?
Not all migrants are migrant workers. For the first time in an international instrument, the Convention provides a definition of a migrant worker centered on engagement in a "remunerated activity." It states, "The term 'migrant worker' refers to a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national" (Art. 2).
What are the basic rights of the migrants according to the Convention?
Safeguarding basic freedoms
Basic freedoms: The Convention provides for their right to leave and enter the State of origin (Art. I). The inhumane living and working conditions and physical (and sexual) abuse that many migrant workers must endure are covered by the reaffirmation of their right to life (Art. 9) and prohibition against cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of punishment (Art. 10) as well as slavery or servitude and forced or compulsory labor (Art. 11). Migrant workers are also entitled to basic freedoms like the freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 12), and the right to hold and express opinions (Art. 13). Their property should not be confiscated arbitrarily (Art. 15).
Equality with nationals: Migrant workers are to be treated as an equal to the nationals of the host country in respect of remuneration and conditions of work (overtime, hours of work, weekly rest, holidays with pay, safety, health, termination of work contract, minimum age, restrictions on home work, etc.) (Art. 25). Equality with nationals extends also to social security benefits (Art. 27) and emergency medical care (Art. 28).
Right to information: To be informed by the States concerned about their rights. Such information should be made available to migrant workers free of charge and in a language understood by them (Art. 33).
Employment contract violations: When work contracts are violated by the employer, the migrant worker has the right to address his or her case to the competent authorities in the State of employment (Art. 54 (d)).
They shall have the right to equal treatment with nationals and be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law (Art. 18.1).
International Migrant's Day is a great opportunity for Taiwan society to recognize and value the contributions made by migrants to the country's economy.
Today, however, migrants in Taiwan because of a corrupt broker system, find themselves regularly in situations characterized by human rights abuses and exploitation. The August 21 incident in Kaohsiung involving Thai nationals and the alleged assault of Filipinos employed at a Formosa facility in Yunlin County are clear examples of this inhumane situation.
Reading through the Convention, one could easily discern that the basic human rights presented there are violated with impunity by a number of employers and brokers in Taiwan; sometimes in connivance with government officials.
The fact that Taiwan is not a member of the UN cannot be an excuse for not trying to implement the principles and the guidelines that are offered by the UN Convention for the protection of migrants and members of their families.
The government of Taiwan claims to be a democratic one, and one that respects human rights. Based on my daily experience, I find this claim untruthful. Everyday, a good number of the 300,000 migrants in Taiwan are subject to abuses such as confiscation of their private properties (passports, cellular phones, etc.) and excessive service fees to name a few.
As NGO workers who have been assisting Taiwan's migrants for more than a decade, we have yet to see any significant improvements on the way foreign workers are being treated in this country.
Let's hope that International Migrant's Day will serve as a wake-up call to government officials who have been appointed to protect migrants' rights. We neither need another commission on human rights nor a beautiful speech to solve those issues. We need action.