Rights-based migration governance

National level

Most governments in South and South-West Asia either actively or passively promote labour migration. To this end, legal and administrative structures dealing with the labour market sector have gradually been put in place in one form or another with some countries reported to have adopted measures to provide certain safeguards for migrant workers, and against abusive recruitment practices.10

Bilateral approaches

The most common mechanisms for regulating interstate labour migration are various types of bilateral agreements. A formal bilateral agreement sets out each side’s commitments and may provide for quotas. Less formal is a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Most countries prefer MOUs, probably because they are non-binding agreements and therefore are easier to negotiate, implement and modify according to changing economic and labour market conditions (Wickramasekara 2004).

In most cases, the main concerns raised regarding these MOUs are that they do not contain specified minimum standards for conditions of work; workers typically have no explicit right to join trade unions; and employers can keep workers’ passports (Wickramasekara 2006). Moreover, the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms of these agreements are weak and with greater focus being on recruitment procedures and the regulation of migration flows, provisions for worker welfare and protection are sidelined. They typically lack gender sensitivity as domestic workers are often excluded, and there is no involvement of social partners in their formulation and implementation (Go 2007).


10 For more details please see chapter on labour migration in this report.