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Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers considers situation in Timor-Leste

4 September 2015

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families this morning concluded its consideration of the initial report of Timor-Leste on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Presenting the report, Marciano da Silva, Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that the Constitution enshrined the principle of universality and equality, while the Immigration and Asylum Act included provisions relating to the protection of the rights of migrant workers. The National Directorate of Job Placement and Protection for the Unemployed had the competence to regulate the process of allocating placements to migrant workers who came to work in Timor-Leste. The Labour Code stated that all workers, including migrant workers, had the right to equality of opportunities and treatment. Access to health care in Timor-Leste was free of charge and equal for nationals and foreigners, including migrant workers and their families.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Committee Experts asked about Timorese nationals going abroad for work and what the State was doing to prepare them for that, and to facilitate their return. Questions were asked about consular services provided for Timorese migrants and the return of bodily remains of those migrants who perished abroad. Experts also wanted to know about the education services available for the children of migrant workers, the right of migrants to join labour unions, the system for the transfer of remittances, the State party’s anti-trafficking efforts, xenophobia and racism, and the transfer of know-how by returnees. Issues of stay permits and restrictions on certain job were also raised.

Mr. da Silva, in closing remarks, thanked the Committee for making constructive suggestions. The delegation was glad to have had the chance to present the progress made, the challenges Timor-Leste was facing and ask for assistance where it was needed. The problems discussed were not only affecting Timor-Leste, but were faced by many countries around the world.

Francisco Carrion Mena, Committee Chairperson, concluded by expressing appreciation that the delegation had come to Geneva and presented its initial report. Timor-Leste was a young nation and was facing various challenges, and the Committee stood ready to support it when it came to the human rights of migrant workers.

The delegation of Timor-Leste included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Secretariat of State for Employment Policy and Vocational Training, and the Permanent Mission of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place in Room VII of the Palais des Nations on Tuesday, 8 September at 3 p.m., when a panel discussion will be held on “Current challenges in protecting the human rights of migrant workers: irregular migration flows in the Mediterranean, migrant workers in the Gulf, and undocumented children in the Americas”.

Report

The initial report of Timor-Leste can be found here.

Presentation of the Report

MARCIANO DA SILVA, Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the international system of human rights occupied a privileged place in the domestic legal framework. The Constitution enshrined the principle of universality and equality, while the Immigration and Asylum Act included provisions relating to the protection of the rights of migrant workers. The National Directorate of Job Placement and Protection for the Unemployed had the competence to regulate the process of allocating placements to migrant workers who came to work in Timor-Leste. Since 2013, the National Directorate for Human Rights and Citizenship had been in place, with the competence to promote policies on human rights and draft various national action plans. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3,400 work visas had been issued, mostly to nationals of Indonesia, China and the Philippines.

In 2006, Timor-Leste had established the Office of the Ombudsman as an independent organ, which enjoyed “A” status. To date, the Office, which had 110 officers, had not received a complaint relating to the rights of migrant workers and their families. With the support of international organizations, border police officers had increased their knowledge of human rights trafficking issues and protection for victims. There were two employment agencies licensed by the Government, whose license was renewed every five years. There was no precise data on the number of Timorese who had returned to the country after having fled violence following the 1999 referendum.

The National Directorate for Labour Relations and the National Directorate for Labour Conditions, in addition to the Public Prosecution Service, had the competence to analyze complaints from all migrant workers and to examine any violations of their rights. The Mediation and Conciliation Service provided support in resolving conflicts that arose from individual or collective work relations. The Labour Code stated that all workers, including migrant workers, had the right to equality of opportunities and treatment insofar as access to employment, training and professional capacity building, work conditions and remuneration. The law also prohibited discrimination. Access to health care in Timor-Leste was free of charge and equal for nationals and foreigners, including migrant workers and their families. Timor-Leste still did not have specific detention facilities for migration-related issues. The Migration Service, when conducting an inspection, identified irregular migrant workers, and would then notify the worker to pay the fine or provide him with an option to voluntarily depart from the country.

Mr. Da Silva stated that Timorese embassies provided consular services to the Timorese community overseas. Children born to Timorese parents abroad had the right to obtain Timorese nationality. Efforts were being made to register all births in Timor-Leste. All school-age children had the same right to access public schools without discrimination based on nationality, and there had been no complaints in that regard. The right to family reunification was recognized for foreigners who possessed a valid residence authorization, but a new draft law on migration and asylum proposed including migrant workers as well. Timor-Leste did not have any bilateral or multilateral agreements on regulating the flow of migrant workers, but there were memoranda of understanding with the Republic of Korea and Australia on sending Timorese to work there. Those workers, upon their return, would get their insurance premium and contributions back, and were helped with registration at employment centres, should they so wish. The movement of persons residing on either side of the Timorese-Indonesian border was facilitated through a bilateral agreement.

In 2010, Timor-Leste had established a border management system in order to identify those who overstayed the time permitted and resided in the country illegally. Timor-Leste was also a member of the Bali Process. Special protection was provided to victims of human trafficking, including a two-year residence authorization. The Vulnerable Persons Unit had been established within the National Police; hundreds of police officers, members of the judiciary and consular officers had been trained on human trafficking. Safe houses were in place for women and children victims of trafficking, which provided them with ongoing support. A proposal on a Law to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking would be submitted to the Parliament soon.

Questions by Experts

JOSE BRILLANTES, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, noted that the report had been submitted quite late and that until just several days earlier, it was not sure whether the delegation would show up for the interactive dialogue. The opening remarks had added up to the report and a number of alternative reports, and provided a good ground for discussion.

Was there a reluctance on behalf of the State party to enter into new treaties, and how could that be explained?

Mr. Brillantes acknowledged the challenges which Timor-Leste, as a young country, was facing. The Committee would like to hear more about what the State party was doing to harmonize its laws with international human rights treaties.

How were the contents of the Convention disseminated? Was there an effort in place to make different sectors of society aware of the Convention?

The Expert asked whether there was a special body dealing with migration.

More information was sought about wages and the time off given to workers.

Could information be provided on the alleged discrimination of migrant workers? Was there a distinction between detention centres for immigrants and others?

The Expert referred to the perceived lack of attention by the labour inspectors to the conditions of migrant workers. Could migrant workers join labour unions?

Pre-departure programmes for Timorese going abroad were missing, but were badly needed.

A question was asked about plans for family reunification programmes.

Did Timorese abroad have an opportunity to cast their vote in elections, the Expert inquired.

Timor-Leste was commended for its efforts to combat trafficking in human beings and the reported lack of discrimination between citizens, foreigners and stateless persons.

The Expert asked whether the political and historical situation made it difficult for the authorities to control migration.

Did everyone in Timor-Leste really have access to free health services?

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, said that Timor-Leste was one of the youngest nations in the United Nations family, adding that it was a nation born on the basis of rights of human beings. That also raised the expectations of the international community, and the country might be held to higher standards.

Had the Convention ever been invoked or applied directly in Timorese courts?

Data was required to analyze State policies vis-à-vis any group of citizens, including migrants. What were the State party’s intentions with regard to the collection of statistics?

In terms of anti-trafficking, Timor-Leste was doing praiseworthy work, the Expert commented. How did the State party handle trafficking in women. Were there dedicated financial resources for that? Had there been any convictions for traffickers and smugglers?

What measures had been taken to facilitate the transfer of remittances from Timorese migrant workers living abroad? When the money was received in the country, were there any measures in place to facilitate its distribution to the next of kin?

While the State had the right to detain migrant workers when they violated laws, migrant workers should not be detained alongside ordinary criminals. Was that the case?

Information was sought about the right of migrant workers to freely join trade unions. Had they availed themselves of such rights?

Who was carrying out the recruitment of foreign labour in Timor-Leste? The Expert also wanted to know about measures in place to regulate that process.

Another Expert asked for more detailed information on the situation of children. Were specific programmes being taken in that regard?

A question was asked on whether the criteria for discrimination included those on the ground of nationality.

How did the State party ensure that migrant workers from Timor-Leste enjoyed rights in foreign countries where they were employed?

Why did migrant workers need to notify the authorities of changes in their civil status, the Expert inquired.

Could the delegation provide some information about prejudice and stereotypes towards migrant workers? Were there instances of xenophobia and violence?

Were there statistics on the measures for detention and expulsion, broken down by nationality and other qualifiers?

An Expert asked whether tribunals directly implemented provisions of the Convention, or did they wait for the Convention to be translated into domestic legislation?

Was the minimum wage ensured for all parties, citizens and non-citizens alike?

What were the results of the measures taken to fight trafficking in human beings?

The issue of social security of Timorese working in Australia and the Republic of Korea was raised by another Expert. To what degree had those Timorese been able to participate in the transfer of technology back to their home country?

A question was asked about the mechanism of drafting the report. Had migrant associations been involved in the process?

Another Expert noted that many workers from Timor-Leste had reportedly been expelled from the Republic of Korea on health grounds – could the delegation comment on that?

Was there a formal migration policy in place, an Expert asked, and, if so, who was in charge of it?

The Expert inquired whether there was an organized and vibrant civil society.

More details were sought about the repatriation of bodies of those who perished abroad. Had Timor-Leste experienced such problems? Were there agreements with other countries on using the DNA technology to identify the deceased, an Expert asked.

What happened if there was violence alongside the border and how did the authorities deal with such issues?

Another Expert wanted to know more about the know-how that returnees to Timor-Leste brought along with them.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that Timor-Leste had significantly changed since the referendum in 1999.

On tackling trafficking, it was explained that immigration officers reported to the police whenever there was a need for it. Immigration officers did not arrest people or perform other police functions.

Migrant workers had the same access to health care as nationals. The annual amount of $ 2,000 was provided by the Government for migrants working as health professionals in Timorese hospitals.

Some of the Timorese had Portuguese passports, which they used to work in certain European Union countries.

The Government tried to take care of the bodily remains of its nationals wherever they passed away. All costs were borne by the Government. The Ministry of Social Solidarity was in charge of the process.

The delegation explained that people living in the border areas were allowed to cross the border, while all others needed to obtain a visa.

A system of labour inspections was in place, which consisted of regular and follow-up inspections and joint visits with migration officers. Migrant workers had the same rights as locals when it came to remuneration and the conditions of work.

Regarding Timor-Leste’s overseas workers in Australia and the Republic of Korea, the delegation stressed that workers were sent only to those countries with established, good systems. It was a matter of the Governments, without involvement of private employment agencies. All efforts were made to inform and educate Timorese nationals before they departed for work abroad. Workers were also educated about different communication channels before leaving. Those going to the Republic of Korea, for example, needed to work on their language skills prior to their departure.

The Government assisted Timorese migrant workers to open two bank accounts before they departed. The worker and the family had access to the accounts. Upon their return, the Government helped those migrants who wanted to start their business. Those Timorese working in the Republic of Korea and Australia also received special skills trainings, while developing a solid work ethic. The main fields of work were tourism, hospitality and horticulture.

The delegation said that racism as such did not exist in Timor-Leste. Disputes at the workplace did occur, but they were individual and not based on ethnicity or nationality. If a company owned by foreigners opened a business in Timor-Leste and brought employees from elsewhere, that might cause a problem.

There was no discrimination against children of migrant workers. Parents could choose the schools to which they sent their children. International crèches and schools existed, which taught in English.

The delegation reminded that in 1999, under very difficult circumstances, almost everyone had turned out to vote in the referendum. The Government did not want its citizens abroad to lose their right to vote. At the moment, there were 28 Timorese Embassies and 20 Consulates around the world. There was a law in place authorizing voting in the Embassies and Consulates, which would be put into practice for the following elections. Particular attention was given to the large diaspora in the United Kingdom.

On the questions of labour exploitation, the delegation explained that numerous inspections of workplaces were conducted on a regular basis. Labour inspectors protected the rights of migrant workers, male and female alike.

The law ensured that people involved in an investigation, arrest and detention had the right to obtain information about their rights, the right to freedom from torture and maltreatment, and the right to a fair trial, including legal aid that was free of charge. Timor-Leste did not yet have specific detention facilities for migration related issues. Timorese and foreign nationals were placed in the same facility and treated equally.

Responding to the question on collective expulsion, the delegation reiterated that no such cases had been registered thus far.

Regarding family reunification, a new Law on Migration and Asylum had been submitted to Parliament in 2015. The right to family reunification would not be granted only to those with residence authorization, but also to migrant workers, so as to avoid any discrimination.

A person who had received a work visa for a particular job was not disadvantaged if his job came to an early end. The remaining time on his visa would not be affected.

Timor-Leste gave utmost importance to the issue of combatting trafficking and was working closely with countries in the region in that regard. The national action plan to combat trafficking had not been put in practice yet. A draft law on combatting trafficking had been approved by the Council of Ministers and would be forwarded to Parliament.

The delegation said that in 1999 there had been many street children in the country, as they had lost their parents in the violence. The Government had provided them with the so-called “mother scholarships” which allowed them to return to schools. As of now, there were no street children in Timor-Leste. Some teenagers were helping their families with street work, such as washing cars, but were not forced to do so. There was no data on migrant children possibly working in Timor-Leste.

Beyond the seasonal work programmes with Australia and the Republic of Korea, there was no agreement on migration control between Australia and Timor-Leste. In July 2010, Parliament had firmly rejected Australia’s proposal to have a migrant detention centre established on its territory. No such centre existed in Timor-Leste. The systems established by Australia and the Republic of Korea on welcoming and protecting migrant workers were quite good, even though the two countries had not ratified the Convention. In the Republic of Korea, the Government provided funds to the centres taking care of workers. Festivals for foreign workers were organized so that they could present their cultures to the home country. The Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste participated in the process of selection and preparation of workers heading to Australia. A number of institutions in Australia provided support to migrant workers there. Timorese attaches worked in both Australia and the Republic of Korea to facilitate communication and help redress any problems which might arise.

Follow-up Questions

An Expert asked about foreign teachers at the University of Timor-Leste – had they been paid?

Could more information be provided on the Office of Human Rights and Justice, the “Provedor”.

Did the State party intend to ratify International Labour Organization Conventions 97, 143 and 189?

What was being done by the State party to ensure that data collected on migrant workers was disaggregated, so that appropriate policies could be taken?

The Expert also asked what steps the State party was planning to take to prohibit gender-based discrimination and provide special protection to female migrant workers.

More explanation was sought on whether migrant workers were tied to a single employer, or if they could shift from one employer to another.

Another Expert inquired whether migrant workers had access to relevant information in their languages.

The issue of the registration of migrant children was also raised. What procedures were in place to ensure that they were registered upon birth so that they would not be rendered stateless?

Why was it compulsory for Timorese going abroad for work to open two bank accounts, an Expert inquired.

If detained migrant workers were kept together with regular offenders, that was in contradiction with the Convention, the Expert noted.

An Expert asked what was being done to counter corruption in the justice system and police forces.

Could figures be provided on the smuggling and trafficking of migrant workers? Had anyone been prosecuted for that? What was the State party doing to protect those vulnerable categories?

Another Expert asked whether the stay permit automatically carried the work permit with it. What kind of appeals could be launched against the decisions on expulsion? How much time was given to persons to leave the country following the decision on expulsion?

A question was asked whether there were any legal restrictions on certain jobs, which might be reserved only for Timorese nationals.

What steps had been taken to facilitate the transfer of remittances? What facilities were provided to migrant workers in Timor-Leste to send money to their families back home?

Had any non-governmental organizations taken part in the preparation of the current report, another Expert asked.

Why had no complaints been submitted to the Ombudsman on labour disputes? Were people possibly not aware of that possibility?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation replied that the electronic payment system was centralized in Timor-Leste. There were sometimes delays in payment, including other institutions and embassies abroad; teachers at the University of Timor-Leste were no exception in that regard.

The Ombudsman had offices in all 65 sub-districts. Any citizens, or foreigners, who suffered violations of their rights could submit complaints directly to the Ombudsman or one of its district offices.

Non-governmental organizations were very active in Timor-Leste, and had contributed to the preparation of the report. Even foreign embassies in Dili had been consulted.

Four languages were in official and working use in the country, and all forms were provided in those. Migrant workers had the possibility to choose forms in one of them.

The delegation explained that there was a very strong anti-corruption commission in Timor-Leste. There had been no complaints on bribery in the police and the judiciary. The Minister of Justice, for example, had gone to prison for the maladministration of funds, which was a sign that anti-corruption efforts bore results.

Disputes at work could take place between the Timorese or between the Timorese and foreign workers, but were not linked to racism.

The Government was committed to gender balance. A State Secretary dealt with gender issues only. There were more female than male members of Parliament.

With regard to visa permits, it was explained that three State bodies were involved in the process. When workers came to Timor-Leste, they normally held tourist visas, after which they could apply for work visas if they had a proof that they were hired by a local company. The company representative would accompany the worker to the Government offices when applying for the visa. The process of the legalization of contracts involved inspections of work sites, with the view of ensuring that workers truly worked for the companies they registered for and under proper conditions. Once workers received their work permits, they could apply for the work visa.

Some Timorese labour inspectors were sent to China in order to learn Chinese so that they could communicate with Chinese labourers in Timor more easily.

Several seminars and workshops had been conducted to disseminate the knowledge of the Convention.

Based on previous experiences, in order to protect the earnings of Timorese working abroad, they were obliged to open two bank accounts, one for themselves and one for their families.

There had been a strong campaign on the need to register children born in Timor-Leste. If children were born to Timorese nationals abroad, they also had an obligation to register them.

The delegation explained that migrants had the right to join whichever labour union they wanted.

Those migrant workers who lost or left their jobs were given a possibility to apply for the extension of their stay through another company, it was clarified.

Concluding Remarks

MARCIANO DA SILVA, Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee and the Country Rapporteurs for making constructive suggestions and being actively involved in the interactive dialogue. The delegation was glad to have had the chance to present the progress made, the challenges Timor-Leste was facing and ask for assistance where it was needed. The problems discussed were not only affecting Timor-Leste, but were faced by many countries around the world. The Permanent Mission in Geneva was open to receiving any further questions from the Committee.

FRANCISCO CARRION MENA, Chairperson of the Committee, expressed appreciation that the delegation had come to Geneva and presented its initial report. Timor-Leste was a young nation and was facing various challenges. The Committee would continue to monitor the situation and would be ready to provide support and guidance to the State party.

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