Continuing the work began in Chiang Mai in May 2015, our working group of experts from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore convened at the Asia Pro Bono Conference & Legal Ethics Forum in Mandalay, Myanmar to discuss their findings on some of the thorniest legal issues facing migrant workers, including contract substitution and agency fees.
The working group’s research aims to create a clear picture of the cross-border impact of some of the national laws that govern migrant workers’ travel and work. They are particularly focused on how unscrupulous brokers and employers skirt the laws in home and host countries by forcing migrant workers to sign multiple work contracts, or hiding the true costs of agency fees by using one country’s laws to avoid the fee limitations imposed by another. The work will come together as chapters in a foundational work that practitioners can use to hold these bad actors accountable.
With the final product starting to take shape, the experts shared their research in a panel discussion at the Pro Bono Conference. Attendees learned about the practical issues in transnational litigation that involve laws across multiple jurisdictions. Participants in turn posed questions on the structure of migrant worker debts, the possibility of a truncated court process for migrant worker claims, and the merits of various methods of protecting workers’ legal rights, such as awareness raising and purchasing worker’s insurance in the host country.
The panel also added to the working group’s research, as it provided substantive discussion and insightful debate about the challenges of cross-border civil claims. It was also effective in generating significant practitioner and academic interest in the topic, which has continued through the course of the project.
The work is scheduled to finish in early 2016, with the finished product available to the public soon after.
Charmaine Yap is a Pro Bono Coordinator at JWB, and a law student at the National University of Singapore. She is one of the co-authors of JWB’s Singapore edition of the Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers, and helps coordinate our cross-border strategic legal research working group.