On the 14th and 15th of November 2016, the international workshop ,,Informal Workers, Migration and Care in ASEAN” took place in Hue in cooperation between the Hue University of Science (HUS) and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia (RLS SEA). Scholars, practitioners, activists and government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and Germany came together to present and discuss findings on the topics of informal workers and gender issues, care for the elderly and migration worker in ASEAN. The conference was initiated with a welcome speech by Mr. Nguyen Thanh, the Committee Chairman of HUS.
The first session addressed the topic of informal workers and gender issues in ASEAN in general and Vietnam in particular. The speakers pointed at problems and challenges caused by the establishment of the ASEAN economic community (AEC) in 2015. The AEC aims at creating a common market between its member with a free flow of goods, services, skilled labor and capital, similar to the economic model of the European Union. Due to the fact that populations of the member states of the AEC have differing levels of educated and skilled workforce, this leads to gaps in competitiveness and disadvantages for some countries. As there is yet still a large number of low-skilled migrants fluctuating between the ASEAN states, they tend to work in the informal sector without access to legal recognition and protection, access to health and social security systems and in social isolation. In this context, the Mekong Migration Network also presented a short video, introducing their concept of ,,Beyond Tolerance: Living together with migrants”. Furthermore, in Vietnam, domestic workers, who are mainly women, are still not recognized in the formal sector. Therefore they are exposed to bad living conditions, no secure access to health and social insurance, and no prospect on professional training. Moving from rural to urban areas for employment seeking, they are also confronted with cultural differences. Even though there are some laws to protect the domestic workers in Vietnam, most of the workers have no knowledge about their legal rights. The participants of the workshop were calling for more educational and vocational training, the recognition of more jobs in the formal sector and easier access and provision of information to the civil society about their legal rights.
At the beginning of the next session Liliane Danso-Dahmen, director of RLS SEA introduced the concept of ,,Global Social Rights” (GSR), a comprehensive term under discussion by the Left worldwide that should help enable global approaches for action. These actions aim at a ,,Global Transformation” of social rights by leading a discourse about the social, economic, cultural and political conditions of a dignified life for everyone. Subsequently Katharina Pühl, researcher for feminist sociology and capitalism analysis at RLS Berlin, presented about the effects of the fiscal crisis 2008 and the effects of the privatization of public infrastructure and social welfare provision on social security systems in Europe. The related consequences are social reproduction and higher burdens for women. In the ASEAN context, with focus on Vietnam, care for the elderly was usually provided inside the traditional family system. Economic drives, that force the mid-aged adults to migrate for work, lead to ,,skipped-generation-households” in rural areas. As a lot of the older population has no sufficient funds to provide for themselves and the pension age is very low in Vietnam, they are forced to work in the informal sector to make a living. Health security systems exist, but often the elderly don’t know about them or reject them because of their insufficient quality. In urban areas, domestic helpers take over the care of the elderly. Referring to Katharina’s speech, an extractivism of care labor is seen on a global scale (regionally in ASEAN and internationally in South-North relations). The participants were discussing a state provisioned care-system for the elderly in consideration of the newly introduced concept of GSR.
The last session addressed the topic of migrant workers in ASEAN in depth. As stated in the AEC, a free flow of skilled labor is desired. Bad economic conditions in the sending countries and the prospect of a better life, often due to asymmetric information on conditions in destination countries, drive a large amount of low-skilled workers to migrate. Even though this workforce is not wanted in the receiving countries, they are needed to be used as cheap labor force for their economic growth. Also Vietnam considers remittances send back from migrants as a backbone of their GDP and relies on it. Often these workers work extended hours, receive low payment, have no health and social security, as well as cultural and language barriers foreclose social relations. Hence they have no basis to invest properly in their reproduction of labor force in terms of quality and quantity and are therefore pre-established for social reproduction. The participants all agreed on the creation and a better implementation of regulations and laws on ASEAN level. Also push- and pull-factors have to be considered while looking for strategies to overcome forced migration.
The workshop decisively showed the mutual dependency and intertwined nature of the attended issues and was used as a space to combine theoretical and practical approaches. The participants learnt from each other and were able to establish further networks among them. Mr. Nguyen Xuan Hong, Lecturer of Hue University of Sciences was giving the closing speech and thanked for the good cooperation between all the participants, RLS SEA and HUS.