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some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

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some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by arun kumar at November 28. 2009

Keeping the discussion on working conditions and rights and not on unemployment question, I would like to raise some issues:

1. Awareness of rights is an issue but even if awareness existed, are young workers in position to enforce their rights?

2. Who is looking after the rights of young workers? 

3. What role should be played by legislation, govt agencies, unions in upholding workers rights? does anyone else too has a role? what are the limitations of each of these factors or actors?

Hope over the weekend some great new ideas will hit this network :)



Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Shaun Kennedy at November 30. 2009

Hello Arun and APYN colleagues. Greetings from the Pacific Island country of Vanuatu. My name is Shaun Kennedy and I am the programme coordinator  in Vanuatu for the ILO Pacific Youth Employment programme entitled 'Education, Employability and Decent Work for Youth in Pacific Island Countries'. 

In my observation, it is the awareness of rights which is the major issue, and the starting point for improving working conditions for youth in Vanuatu. There is nowhere near a sufficient level of awareness by youth that they have a range of rights covering their working life. This lack of awareness plays into the hands of the more unscrupulous employers, who exploit this ignorance by imposing harsh conditions on workers to extract the maximum profit.

But even if there was a sufficient level of awareness, are young workers in a position to enforce their rights? In Vanuatu, unfortunately the answer is ‘no’.

A small part of the reason may be cultural factors. In Vanuatu, traditional customs and culture does not encourage young people to speak out to voice such things as ‘rights’.

But in the urban areas (Port Vila and Luganville), where custom and traditional culture are eroded by western influences and the monetized economy, many youth working hard in the formal retail, construction and tourism sectors are forced to endure harsh conditions on a daily basis. If they complain to the Government Labour Department or try to play the Union card they are dismissed instantly by the employer. So workers wanting to keep their jobs, because their need for money is greater than their need for human rights, learn to keep their mouths shut. And so the discontent and anger grows inside. Sometimes this anger spills over as workers take the law into their own hands.

We have a number of national laws which protects workers rights including from unfair dismissal ,but unscrupulous employers escape prosecution because the Government does not have the capacity to react and punish employers who are guilty of failing their employees.

Our Govt Labour Officers receive many complaints from discontented workers on a weekly basis but the vast majority of those complaints remain in a pile of paper on a dusty shelf.

In Vanuatu, to take an employer to court is an extremely lengthy and expensive business, and so in 99% of cases, it never happens. In addition to a lack of human capacity and financial resources for our Government Labour Department there is a lack of human capacity and financial resources in our courts system. So exploited workers are now angry at both the employer and the State. Workers accuse the Government Labour Officers of taking bribes from private sector employers.   

In Vanuatu we do not have a separate ‘Labour Court’ which I believe exists in other countries. I know our Port Vila Labour Officer thinks this is the ‘missing link’ in Vanuatu which would allow much quicker action on complaints and would enable the worst employers to be officially exposed and suitably punished.     

I believe it is the role of the Government to look after the rights of workers, including young workers, by providing an environment whereby rights can be promoted and protected.

In Vanuatu, our Labour Department receives only a tiny fraction of the central budget, and so their hands are very much tied in terms of what they can actually do in this respect. Much more Govt financial resources are directed to the tackling the results of social unrest – more police, bigger prisons - rather than the causes of social unrest – which can include exploitation of the local labour force.

Not all employers in Vanuatu are unscrupulous. Several, in all sectors, are very proactive in promoting conditions for happy and productive workers. But it seems too subjective to be satisfactory. Over supply of unskilled labour, loose legislation and weak capacity to enforce labour market regulation allows the unscrupulous employers to exploit workers and ignore their rights.     

Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by arun kumar at November 30. 2009

dear Shaun,

thanks for your very informative post on the situation in Vanuatu- which I guess also reflects the situation in general in Pacific Island countries - with over supply of low skilled young labour and very few domestic opportunities for typical options that may be available in other larger economies such as doemstic manufcaturing industry or  a large services ector such as banking, telecom, media, eudcation , health care or insurance.

In fact, everytime we have discussed in the past the question of employment in Pacific island states, there has been bit of a frustration at the lack of choices there with limited markets that make many activities unviable there and makes sense to import things. Still there are some major sectors that could be a source of employment (as you point out also) such as fisheries, rural based industries such as those linked to fruits and agricultural products, tourism related activities - but this potential is being killed due to the model of economic development that these countries have been encouraged/forced to follow which gives primacy to 'privatisation' rather than communitisation' of economic activities which would make sense in these small economies.  It's cooperative economy not competitive and competing privatised economy Pacific Islands need - atleast thats my impression from the two visits that I had (Fiji and Samoa, where we had union representtaives from about 16 of these Pacific nations)

what can be done to improve working conditions? well, role of state is indispensable - I personally believe that lot of problems can be solved if only workers had the right to organize, right to union recognition and right to colleactive bargaining - at present in most countries these rights even if they are in the constitution or in laws, are not respected in practice and at the same time, the labour laws implementation machinery is weak, understaffed, underfunded and unmotivated to implement the laws in a situation where they know that the poitical leaders would prefer to go easy on the employers.

another factor that can help is - if state puts in the law that ensures that no one in the country will be employed without minimum social security contribution - to be deposited in the employees name in the national social security fund - both employers and workers should contribute to it, with state gauranteeing the short fall. this will not only give some social protection to the workers when they reitire but in the meanwhile would accumulate to a sizeable domestically raise investment capital that the state can use to invest in domestic infrastructure that helps promote local economic activities - especially small and medium entreprises - this would be one way to raise domestic capital rather than keep borrowing from abroad which comes with its own conditionalities and often makes these small island countries loose control over their natural resources. 

Its about time that governments stopped thinking of labour standards as something that are good for workers only. In fact, freedom of association, right to collective bargaining and basic social security for all - are in effect economic development policies - these three standards not only protect workers but help in sharing gains from growth, spread purchasing powers and in the process help to expand domestic market - both investment and consumption rise - these standards help a country to keep little bit more of the value addition or wealth created by foreign and domestic investors within the country and help in the creation and growth of middle class which is so very essential for domestic economic growth. In the absence of these rights, the country becomes extremely polarised - between very small number of extremely rich people and a large majority of too poor people who cannot provide any domestic demand. and in such a model, government sources of revenue also remain very restricted forcing the govts to depend on foreign aid or loans and loss of decision making over domestic resources or economic policies. 

what do you folks think?


Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Shaun Kennedy at December 01. 2009

Thanks Arun. You know, I've had an idea kicking around in my head for several months regarding addressing rights and conditions for workers (in Vanuatu - but could of course apply to other countries in the Pacific and in Asia).

I wondered if the Employers Organisation (e.g. Chamber of Commerce in Vanuatu) could host a competition for 'Employer of the Year'. The criteria would include several components of Decent Work, including how the rights and conditions of workers are addressed and promoted.

This competition would raise awareness and understandings of the concept of Decent Work, and winning the competition would be very positive publicity for the business. It might even spur other employers to address their own situation within their workplace.

Of course there could be a range of winners - large employers, small employers, plus different sectors - tourism, construction, etc.

In Vanuatu, our Chamber hosts a Business Forum each year, so the awards could be presented at that.

Just an idea that I thought would be relatively low cost, but would produce a high level of impact in terms of awareness of Decent Work, including rights of workers. Hopefully the awareness raising would result in positive changes for workers.

The film 'Oscars' also have an alternative 'raspberry' awards ceremony for the worst film, worst actor etc of the year. Perhaps some cutting edge brave NGO's could run an alternative ceremony for Worst Employer of the Year, to expose the worst offenders to publicity?? 

What do you think?

Shaun in Vanuatu. 



Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by arun kumar at December 01. 2009

dear Shaun, the idea is good - both of them - ofcourse ILO cannot do this but certainly we can encourage the UNION to hold such an annual convention where they award the best and the worst employer - listing out reasons for their choice - invite journalists (I doubt if employers would come but that should not matter).

best wishes


Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Goy Phumtim at December 03. 2009

Dear all,

This has been a very interesting discussion.  Thank you to everyone who has participated and to Arun for doing a great job at moderating.


I wanted to expand on Arun’s post at the top of this thread a bit.  We have talked a lot about young workers who are having a hard time finding jobs and/or deprived of rights and good working conditions.  However, I think that we should also shed some light on young migrant workers who are facing the challenges of being a youth AND a foreigner in a different country/city. 


Many young people have left their countries (or hometowns - in the case of internal migrants) through government-sponsored programs, private recruitment programs or on their own in search of a decent life and better employment opportunities.  These young migrant workers are taking up both skilled and unskilled work in various industries such as construction, agriculture, domestic work.  Their productivity has benefited the destination country while their remittances help the economy of their country of origin.  This is a seemingly advantageous situation for all sides.


The reality for some though is that they are forced to work for months without pay, exposed to health and safety threats at work and sometimes subjected to violence and abuse.  In most cases, these young workers are unaware of what their rights even are.  


  • How can we better protect these young workers? 
  • Is there more that can be done beyond ensuring that minimum labour standards are enforced?
  • More importantly, whose responsibility is it?
  • Should young people even migrate in the first place?


Furthermore, irregular migrant workers (particularly in the Mekong Sub-region) are prevalent.  Since they have entered the destination country without going through the formal process or do not hold proper documents, it makes it even more difficult to protect their rights and conditions.  Should these workers be sent back to their countries (where conditions may be worse) or should their rights be protected too?  


I’m coming from a different angle and would love to hear the community’s thoughts on these points.


All the best,

Goy Phumtim / APYN Facilitator


Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by arun kumar at December 04. 2009

dear Goy

thanks for bringing into the discussion the issue of young migrants - an issue which is discussed a lot but in practice little is done to ensure that their rights are respected. Many reasons for this - some you point out.

In so far as ILO is concerned, I believe ILO is of the view that migration is a labour market and a decent work issue. Migration will increase in times ahead and it is beneficial to individuals and the economy - but it is beneficial only if migrants rights are respected. The world needs more and better migration policies and not more controls or policing.

Unfortunately, in this period of globalization, this is one area where least amount of progress has been made, not withstanding the UN and ILO conventions on humand and trade union rights of migrant workers, including migrant workers without proper documentation. Migration is seen as an issue for police and home ministry, rather than Labour MInistry. Its amazing - under policies for promoting globalization the rules for capital are - foreign capital should be given 'national treatment' (that is no discrimination between foreign and domestic capital) - another rule is Most Favoured Nation treatment to every country (that is - if any country gives a special treatment to any favoured nation, the same treatment should be extended to all other countries) - but where humans are concerned, these principles do not apply and discrimination between citizen and foreign labour persists - especially at the lower end of the labour market - One thinking is that this is purposely kept so by the receiving govts so that employers can get cheap labour and when they are not needed, they can be deported or sent back.

here I would also like to point out that developed countries make a lot of noise about humand and workers rights in developing Asian countries and want to promote labour standards - however if you look at the ratification record of ILO Convention 143 regarding migrant workers, hardly any of the developed countries have ratified this convention (same goes for many Asian countries too) - which is like saying  - you should respect labour rights in your country but we don't have to respect migrant workers rights in our country - hypocrazy, I say:)

Some Problem areas in current global migration

  • Treatment & protection of migrant workers (exploitation & abuse of migrant workers)

·         Growth of irregular migration

·         “Brain drain” from developing countries, especially health care drain – migration policies favour skilled workers.

·         Poor integration of migrants in host societies

·         Problems in remittances – high costs

·         Poor governance of migration

·         Lack of a multilateral framework

•     most focus on control & prevention – not management.

 What ILO has said (A fairer Globalization: Creating opportunities for all, Report of the World Commission of the Social Dimension of Globalization, ILO, Geneva, 2004) -

Ø  “Steps have to be taken to build a multilateral framework that provides uniform and transparent rules for the cross-border movement of people and balances the interests of both migrants themselves and of countries of origin and destination”.

 Ø  “Fair rules for trade and capital flows need to be complemented by fair rules for the cross-border movement of people.”

 ILO's Multilateral framework on Labour Migration provides the pathway by which to achieve these objectives, but there are no takers.

Whats needed:

  • Facilitative legal & institutional environment 
  • Respect for principles of FoA & Right to Collective Bargaining– changes in labour law
  • Campaign for ratification of ILO’s & UN Conventions for Migrant workers
  • Strengthen labour law enforcement machinery
  • Affordable access to disputes resolution machinery
  • Translation & legal services for the migrants
  • Education & Awareness raising programmes for migrant workers – in their language
  • Health care and education facilities
  • Cooperation with host country TUs, NGOs, community & immigrant rights networks
  • Human rights orientation for the police & other local authorities
  • Use of ILO’s Complaints mechanism to pressurize Governments to end discriminatory labour practices against migrants
  • Actions to promote Decent work in Informal economy – main sector of migrants employment

For unions – Organizing migrants is the main task and a difficult one – although many unions in Asia are organizing migrant workers. Nature of initiatives taken by unions are –

  • help lines, training programmes, info centres to help migrants,  legal services to defend & help them with administrative procedures.
  • Oppose racism &  prejudices to which migrant workers are often subjected to.
  • Oppose deportation of irregular migrants & advocating for law for protection of all
  • Connecting migrant workers to their embassies
  • Cooperating with the TUs in the sending countries & NGOs

 BUT - is labour migration good for the country? For the family? Does it solve the problems? This has both plus and minus sides. It would be interesting to see what others have to say.

Participants views...???

best wishes


Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Goy Phumtim at December 05. 2009

Dear Arun,

Thanks for the comprehensive response.  It is clear that a lot still needs to be done in terms of protecting young workers.  During this discussion, a lot of the recommendations have been more or less focused on what governments/unions/employers/etc can do to protect the rights and conditions of young workers.  Although very important, I think it’s equally critical to focus on the other side of the equation as well – the youth themselves.  One approach is to increase the level of advocacy/awareness to ensure that youth know what their rights are and can protect themselves.


I was part an awareness raising campaign called “Travel Smart Work Smart” last year -- an initiative by the ILO’s Trafficking in Children and Women Programme.  It is a free guidebook that primarily targets youth ages 15-24 (but equally relevant to older migrants) who have or are interested in migrating to work in Thailand.  It equips them with information and resources needed to migrate safely and avoid labour exploitation/trafficking.  Some examples of basic information included in the guidebook are: minimum wage rates, number of working hours per day allowed, rights to sick leave and contact information to organizations that can help.


A full/free copy of the guidebook can be downloaded here:


This book was translated into 6 different languages and distributed throughout Thailand and neighboring countries where migrants often come from.  A similar guide was also published in Viet Nam for Vietnamese workers migrating within their country and beyond.  Lao PDR and Cambodia have also produced similar guides for migrant source communities, and in China, a guide developed and distributed in five provinces while a separate edition has been adapted for Yunnan Province.


This awareness raising campaign is a good example of how knowledge is power and youth who know their rights can better protect themselves.  I’d be interested to hear from the community of any other initiatives with a similar aim of spreading knowledge to young workers.




Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Rosas Gianni at December 05. 2009

Dear colleagues,

Some notes on Arun's questions that relate to awareness but also enforcement of labour rights for young people.

Awareness of rights at work by young workers is an important aspect. One of the key aspects resulting from the school-to-work transition surveys run by the ILO in a number of countries is that many young people are not aware of their rights and entitlements at work (e.g. written employment contracts in countries where it is required by labour law, right to weekly rest, paid annual and sick leave and other social security benefits). Lack of awareness and little information on action to be taken in the cases of violation of labour rights are certainly detrimental to effective enforecement of labour law provisions. In this respect, the Youth Employment Programme of the ILO is developing of a tool on rights at work for young people that could be used by schools, trade unions and other  settings to raise awareness of youth on rights relating to the world of work. For instance, in schools this awareness raising activities could become part of civic education curricula that aim to forge active citizenship of young students.
The above is, however, a necessary but not sufficient condition to have young workers' rights enforced. The exercise of rights at work needs to be backed by effective labour market institutions that define (e.g. employment protection legislation), monitor (e.g. labour inspection services)  and enforce (e.g. labour and civil courts in case of violation) labour rights. Again, it is important for young workers to know mandate, roles and functioning of these institutions in case they want to take action against violation of their rights and entitlements.   
Best regards,

Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by arun kumar at December 05. 2009

dear Gianni,

I fully agree with your suggestion for <in schools this awareness raising activities could become part of civic education curricula that aim to forge active citizenship of young students> - its amazing how in almost every country the education system has no curriculla that aims to raise awareness of youth on their rights as 'workers' as employees' in that country. Certainly some basic education on labour standards and labour laws - rights and duties of workers and employers must be there so as to raise some bit of civic consciousness.

dear Goy,

the <“Travel Smart Work Smart”>booklet should be given to every workers leaving the country by airport authorites (just as they make filling of the immigration form essential).

best wishes




Re: some questions for your views (backed by evidence, if possible)

Posted by Henrik Vistisen at December 06. 2009

Awareness of rights and conditions and challenges in out-migration

Dear all,

Thanks for an interesting thread on these issues.

In Sri Lanka and under the auspices of the Youth Employment Project (ILO/Japan), we have also learned that knowledge of fundamental rights and awareness of challenges in migration is key.

Consequently, the project designed an awareness raising campaign in the shape of street drama performed in the target areas of the project: tea and rubber plantations. Street drama is already a very popular and effective means of communication – especially vis-à-vis youth that might be less literate. The particular street drama performance devised under the project carries the following messages: a) vocational training is key, b) choosing a good career path is crucial, c) choosing out-migration to cities or other countries entails a range of risks that need to be mitigated. The street drama and its messages has been validated by both Government, trade union and employer representatives. You might wish to read more about this intervention:

Within the same general strategy of reaching young women and men on these issues, the project also took the opportunity of using the occasion of the International Youth Day to promote decent work for youth as well as career guidance. This was done in cooperation with local authorities in the province where the project implements most of its activities. You might wish to read more about this intervention:

Best regards, Henrik in Sri Lanka


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