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Nations Consider Banning Workers from Dangerous Areas

On October 7, 2011

Several nations are considering banning their citizens from working in countries with poor records of migrant treatment. East Java is seeking to gradually limit the portion of its population working abroad across the board. Indonesia recently publicized an interim list of only four nations approved for its workers. The Philippines is also determining which nations are safe for its citizens; A bill currently in consideration would ban Filipinos from working in nations that have not adopted the ILO's Migrant Worker's Act. Kuwait is among the nations not yet compliant with the act, according to Filipino officials. Kuwaiti representatives are meeting in Manila to address the situation.

The push for nations to adhere to the Migrant Worker's Act is part of the Philippine’s larger aim to secure social and legal rights for its citizens abroad. Bans are an attractive tool for governments seeking to reduce migrants mistreatment because of a host country’s generally exclusionary legal framework; migrant workers tend to face apathy at best, and further hostility at worst, when they attempt to report mistreatment. A migrant's virtually extralegal existence makes it difficult for either oversight organizations or their own government agencies to advocate on their behalf.

Despite their apparent comprehensive nature, bans are only a temporary and imperfect fix; nations whose GDPs rely largely on migrant remittances face serious difficulties in attempting to balance human rights and prosperity. Citizens desperate for work may illegally enter banned countries and face even less protection. Such complications may tempt nations to lift bans before conditions have actually improved. The inclusion of Saudi Arabia in Indonesia's tentative list of worker-approved nations, despite its very recent ban and continued rights violations, illustrates this equivocation clearly. Saudi Arabia's approved status has prompted the Indonesian Migrant Trade Union to question the government's method of evaluation, especially as more migrant-friendly nations have been excluded from the list.

Effective bans require careful planning and execution. East Java is implementing training and technical programs over a period of years to ease the transition. The Philippines is establishing clear standards,with the the conditions of the Migrant Worker's Act as its foundation, that nations must meet. The commitment of governments to these standards will largely determine ultimate effectiveness of the bans in improving migrant conditions.