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Lower Barrier to Labour Mobility Can Benefit ASEAN: World Bank

October 11, 2017

As part of the efforts to achieve further integration within ASEAN region, its members can do more to lower the mobility barriers and let their workers to move in and out of one another’s countries to work, said the World Bank on its recent report. By doing so, they can reap benefits by extending talents and improving knowledge around ASEAN.

Being one among the fastest-growing regions in rapidly-changing global economy, workers can gain from such migration. Rather than seeing such mobility as ‘brain drain’, employers should perceive migration as ‘brain circulation’.

World Bank added that carefully managed migration processes are another key factor that will bring benefits. The methods it recommends to ease mobility flows include improving the information that workers need about opportunities and rights while providing more data on skills shortage.

Several steps have been taken by the ASEAN Economic Community to accommodate such movements, such as standardising qualifications. This initiative would allow engineers, nurses, architects, doctors, dentists, surveyors, accountants and tourism professionals from one ASEAN country to work in another if they meet certain requirements.

See: Voluntary Standard for Flexible Working Arrangements Launched

However, these occupations make up only 5 percent of jobs in the region. This means that worker welfare (a metric that includes wages and employment) would not rise as fast. The report pointed out that if the barriers go down for all workers, the increase would be 29 percent compared with 14 per cent if only the higher-skilled ones are targeted.

According to the study, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are the biggest attractions for migrants, although many of them lower-skilled. Altogether, they take in 6.5 million ASEAN migrants, making up 96 percent of the total. Besides ASEAN, the only other region where the share of intra-region migration, out of all migration, increased between 1995 and 2015 is East Asia and the Pacific. In ASEAN, it increased up by 10 percentage points.

The rise is due to differences in growth and population trends among ASEAN countries, said the report’s lead author Mauro Testaverde, who is the World Bank’s economist for social protection and labour for East Asia and Pacific, Straits Times reports.

The bank’s chief economist for the East Asia and Pacific region, Sudhir Shetty noted that labour mobility has contributed to constant vitality in the region that brings advantages not only for migrants, but also for the countries that send and receive them. Countries that send out their workers get remittances and expertise, while those that bring them in can address their talent crunch, boost growth and employment of their local workers.

In ASEAN as a whole, there remains gaps in migration systems. For example, overly complicated labour movement processes often resulted in more undocumented migrants. Owing to the reason, the report suggests a number of ways to improve mobility. Among them is to make entry requirements more transparent and to help workers track their progress towards admission. In some cases, migrants are ill-informed about opportunities and costs, and even fall victims to exploitation done by recruitment agencies. ASEAN could address this with a common labour market information portal.

Other recommendations suggested by the report include publishing data on skills shortages, developing an ASEAN framework for bilateral agreements on labour flows, as well as having pre-departure courses to ensure migrant workers know their rights and are financially literate.

Read also: HR Life Sciences & Healthcare Strategy Meeting Singapore 2018

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