Australian Mission to ASEAN

ASEAN High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Economic Community

ASEAN High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Economic Community

7 July 2017, Jakarta, Indonesia



Ms Miwa Kato, UN Women Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, HE Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg, Ambassador of Germany to Indonesia, HE Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary General for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, the ASEAN Secretariat, Ms Roosmawati, Director Labour Market Development, Ministry of Manpower, Indonesia, ASEAN senior officials, representatives from worker and employer organisations, distinguished guests, partners in gender equality – good morning.

I am delighted to be here at this landmark Policy Dialogue on women migrant workers in the ASEAN Economic Community.

As the ASEAN Economic Community deepens, economic growth will increasingly depend on migrant workers to meet new labour demands.  We know that women and girls already account for almost half of the 6.9 million intra-ASEAN migrant workers. But there is lot we don’t know about their contribution and their experiences. Many aspects of their economic contribution remain unexamined. And an understanding of these women’s employment experiences, their ambition, and resilience is also under-appreciated.

Australia has an unstinting commitment to promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. In the ASEAN region, Australia supports initiatives that remove barriers to women’s economic participation. We promote women’s access to formal employment opportunities in the economy. But we also want to ensure that conditions for women are safe, decent and dignified.

This commitment created the impetus for a partnership with the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific on Preventing the Exploitation of Women Migrant Workers in ASEAN. Under this program, we recognised the need to better understand and account for the role of women migrant workers, especially in the Priority Integration Sectors of ASEAN. The study being launched today on Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Economic Community represents the second of two substantial pieces in this endeavour. The study highlights the demographics and labour migration patterns of women workers; quantifies their contributions to the sectors of agribusiness, tourism and infrastructure; and reveals the disparities and issues that women migrant workers contend with.

I want to congratulate the partners and researchers on their accomplishment. In particular I would like to acknowledge the ASEAN Secretariat, led by the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower, the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia for their collaborative leadership on this study.

The report offers evidence and actionable recommendations for us to contemplate today. It has brought into focus the face of women migrant workers – typically young, with lower education levels, and clustered in domestic work, agriculture, manufacturing and even construction. It has revealed the tenuous circumstances of their work lives - often without access to social and health insurance; but despite this, the study showed they have a ‘significant’ impact on the domestic wages of destination economies.

The accounts of three women in the report – Irene, Thiri and Gita - also highlight that women migrant workers manage to transition between many jobs, despite low access to skills training. We hear from Irene, an Indonesian, who first migrated to Malaysia to work in a garment factory when she was 21 years old. After marrying, she returned to Malaysia for a second time using a recruiter but discovered there was no job waiting for her. She found a job as a general labourer, working seven days a week, ten hours per day but being paid less than the men working the same job on the site. Considered an undocumented migrant worker, she was constantly nervous about the threat of raids. But she continued working for two and a half years in the same job, sending her earnings back home to Indonesia to pay for the care of her infant daughter.

Irene’s story, along with Thiri and Gita’s experiences, demonstrate the perseverance of women migrant workers who often face abuse or threats to their safety but are determined to keep working to earn income they can remit to their families. The challenge for us all is to ensure that women migrants have equal access to formal labour migration channels; and that the work they undertake – whether domestic service, in construction, in factories or on plantations - is recognised, accorded protections, has equivalent wages and conditions to that of men. This will ultimately promote the stability and prosperity of this region.

These are bold ambitions. Consultation and collaboration can make the search for solutions easier. We all recognise the economic and people-centred benefits of safer, more productive labour migration with the ASEAN community, including for women. Australia remains steadfast in our commitment to this goal.

Today’s inter-pillar dialogue is an opportunity to exchange insights and actions, and facilitate greater linkages across the ASEAN pillars. We hope that in the future you will draw on these networks and the report to take these issues forward for the economic advancement of ASEAN and the benefit of women migrant workers.

I wish you all the best for your deliberations today. Thank you