HOMENET SEA PUSHES FOR HEALTH CARE FOR INFORMAL WORKERS IN ASEAN PEOPLE’S FORUM
Participants from Homenet Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, and Thailand played important roles in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC)/ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) held at the Thammasat University Convention Center in Thailand 10-12 September.
Some 1000 participants from 11 countries attended the Forum which focused on the theme “Advancing People’s Movements for Justice, Peace, Equality, Sustainability and Democracy in Southeast Asia” and featured the following convergence spaces: 1) Decent Work, Social Protection, HealthCare (Life with Dignity); 2)Human Rights, Democracy, and Access to Justice; 3) Innovation, New and Emerging Technologies and Digital Rights; 3)Migration; 4)Peace and Security; 5)Trade, Investments, and Corporate Power; and 6) Environmental Sustainability.
Homenet Southeast Asia, through its Regional Coordinator SuntareeSaengging, served as one of two principal convenors of the Forum, leading the Thai National Organizing Committee, as well as the ASEAN Regional Organizing Committee. It also served as one of the main organizers of the convergence space on decent work, social protection, and health care, particularly the session on Guaranteeing Health Care for Informal Workers with speakers from Homenet Cambodia, Laos, and the Philippines.
Outside of the main forum, HNSEA also organized a panel discussion on “The Mirage of UHC for Informal Workers in Southeast Asia” in partnership with SEA Junction at the BACC in Central Bangkok, with speakers from PATAMABA WISE, Homenet Philippines; Migrant Action Network of Vietnam (MNET); and the domestic workers’ network in Indonesia.
For its part, Homenet Thailand organized a walking tour of Bangkok, together with the Network of Thai Vendors for Sustainable Development, many of whose members were evicted from Bangkok’s streets because of a ban on vending.
During a workshop on Transformative Economy and Alternatives at the APF co-organized by the Asian Solidarity Economy Council(ASEC) /RIPESS Asia) , Homenet Thailand through PoonsapTulaphan discussed the insights, experiences, and plans of home-based and other informal workers it is consolidating into a social enterprise.
Guaranteeing Health Care for Informal Workers
The APF session elaborated on the following principles upheld by Homenet Southeast Asia as necessary for health systems to be truly inclusive of informal workers: 1) universalism, covering all human beings within a given country; 2) equity in standards; 3) public financing; 4) comprehensive and equitable benefit packages, covering all diseases, with a strong focus on preventive and promotive health, including work-related health issues, and sexual and reproductive health; and 5) participatory governance, with space for civil society to be part of the health scheme structure.
Men Sinoeun, speaking for Homenet Cambodia, reported that his country is committed to achieving UHC by 2025. In the meanwhile, some groups in the informal economy are being covered by the Health Equity Fund providing free health care for the poor, as well as by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Including informal workers in health care schemes is important because they represent 80 percent of the Cambodian work force.
Lamphan of Homenet Laos shared her country’s experience with health care coverage through the National Health Security Fund which subsidizes health care for the poor, and the National Social Security Fund which includes a health benefit that informal workers may access. Government’s goal is to implement a tax-based national health insurance scheme but the quality and sustainability of this scheme remains a challenge.
On the part of Homenet Philippines, Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo presented the key features of the Universal Health Care Act enacted in February, which she described as a victory of civil society advocacy along with the Expanded Maternity Leave Act which lengthens the leave period to 105 days and covers informal workers. However, implementation remains a big challenge in the context of the current health care situation in the country: lack of health personnel and infrastructure, dominance of the private sector and increasing privatization of government hospitals, high cost of medicines, low budget for health, increasing malnutrition and unwanted pregnancy, and lack of participatory mechanisms in the health care structure, etc.
Josephine “Olive” Parilla of PATAMABA-WISE-Homenet Philippines echoed the above misgivings during her talk at the SEA Junction panel discussion on “The Mirage of Universal Health Care for Informal Workers in Southeast Asia.” Nevertheless, she pointed out that informal worker leaders are engaging in the crafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations as well as in civil society efforts to monitor progress.