Labour migration is a highly fluid phenomenon in the 21st century, capturing public attention and driving political controversy globally, Prof Kaxton Yu-Kwan Siu, of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Department of Applied Social Sciences, said.
The scholar noted that even as cross-border or inter-regional movement may beckon as a source of hope and new opportunity, the experience for migrants and their families is often fraught with peril.
He cited the example of Vietnam, where foreign investors have built many export-oriented factories that has generated a constant rural-to-urban work migration flow.
Nguyen Thi Hong Xoan, dean of the sociology faculty at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in HCM City, said that migrant workers face a lack of protections, high recruitment costs, and costly and lengthy migration procedures.
In 2015, some 36 percent of HCM City’s population were migrants with temporary residence status, according to figures from the World Bank.
Another survey by the World Bank in the same year showed three quarters of employees at foreign firms in Vietam were migrant workers.
Around 80,000 Vietnamese leave the country for jobs overseas each year, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). About 400,000 Vietnamese workers are present in more than 40 countries and territories worldwide.
According to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances, the inflows of remittances to Vietnam by guest workers reached US$13.8 billion in 2017, a rise of 16 percent over 2016, ranking eighth in the world, showing the economic significance of labour migration.
However, there are major issues associated with labour migration such as the violation of rights of workers by employers, breach of contracts and desertion by workers, illegal networks of recruitment, and violation of government regulations on recruitment procedures.
Migrant workers are often vulnerable and policies across the region do little to address their needs, according to the ILO.
According to UN data, 80 percent of intra-ASEAN migrants are low skilled and many of them are undocumented.
Construction, plantation work and domestic services are the sectors that receive the most migrant workers.
They often face arrest or deportation when attempting to fight for their rights, and are bound to special documents that limit their ability to change jobs.
The conference on “Migration and Labour in Vietnam” gathered scholars from different parts of the world and drew on a wide variety of disciplines, including history, anthropology, ethnic studies, gender studies, public health, law and public policy.
The event was organised by HCM City’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.