Old and new challenges for foreign migrant workers . . .
Foreign migrant workers in Asia are facing intensified scrutiny as the latest COVID-19 wave surges. Thailand and Vietnam have cracked down on illegal migration, while Singapore and Taiwan have been criticized for strict control measures aimed specifically at foreign workers. Wage theft and poor access to health care and social services are widespread. But the pandemic has also revealed just how much Asian economies rely on foreign migrant workers. Countries like Singapore have sounded the alarm over worker shortages in key industries, such as construction, reliant on migrant labour. The Asian Development Bank estimates that migrant worker remittances in Asia declined by up to C$65 billion in 2020, with South Asia shouldering more than half of the loss of remittance income.
Discrimination and diplomatic controversies in Hong Kong . . .
Facing increased work hours and restrictions on rest days since last year, foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong were singled out for mandatory COVID-19 testing in early May after one worker tested positive for a COVID variant. Workers lined up for hours on their days off for testing, which found three positive cases out of 370,000 workers tested. Though health officials have cited a need to trace fast-spreading variant cases, the Indonesian and Philippine consulates decried this testing as “illogical” and a “violation of [workers’] employment rights.” The Hong Kong government abandoned a mandatory vaccination campaign for foreign domestic workers after the Philippines foreign minister said it “smacks of discrimination.”
South Korea’s hidden foreign migrant worker dilemma . . .
After last year’s high-profile death of a Cambodian migrant worker and the revelation of hundreds of undocumented worker deaths in recent years, the South Korean government has faced renewed challenges in balancing migrant rights with societal demands during the pandemic. Large outbreaks in February and March prompted national and provincial governments in South Korea to mandate testing for all registered and unregistered foreign workers, which triggered accusations of racism and a formal complaint from several European consulates. In late March, the National Human Rights Commission advised governments to cease discriminatory testing based on nationality. However, provincial governments have continued mandatory testing despite the recommendation, especially among foreign agricultural workers who mostly hail from Southeast Asia and Russia.
- New York Times: For Hong Kong’s domestic workers during Covid, discrimination is its own epidemic
- Rest of World: The bottom of the food chain: Futuristic tech won’t fix harrowing conditions for South Korea’s migrant farmers
- Southeast Asia Globe: A year since the transient worker Covid crisis: Lessons for Southeast Asia