ILO Webinar Examines Impact of COVID-19 on African Migrant Workers in the SADC and IGAD Regions

In response to impacts of COVID-19 to migrant workers, the ILO encourages countries of origin and destination to develop mechanisms to implement policy responses that support the protection of migrant workers’ rights.

Article | 07 December 2020
The ILO organized a webinar on the Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on African Migrant Workers aimed at disseminating the results of the report “Impact assessment of COVID-19 on Migrant Workers in and from the IGAD Region”, and presenting the preliminary results of another report: “Rapid Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on Migrant Workers in the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC)”.

The December 7 webinar examined findings from the ILO’s Southern Africa Migration Management (SAMM) Project and the Free Movement of Persons and Transhumance in the IGAD Region: Improving Opportunities for Regular Labour Mobility (FMPT) Project.

“As one of its responses to COVID 19 pandemic, the ILO is evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on labour migration governance, recruitment practices, and migrant workers to assist both countries of origin and destination in developing mechanisms to deal with the crisis and implement policy responses that support the protection of migrant workers’ rights,” Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, said during her opening remarks.

Samuel-Olonjuwon cautioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the global economy and the world of work, and that it has already transformed into an economic and labour market shock, impacting not only supply, but also the demand side. She explained that the services sector, tourism, travel and retail have been particularly hard hit.

In Africa, the total working-hour losses in the second quarter of 2020 are estimated at 15.6 per cent, or 60 million full time equivalent jobs, up from the previous estimate of 12.1 per cent, the Regional Director said.

She therefore strongly advised that measures to stimulate the economy must provide the fullest possible assistance to vulnerable groups and the most affected populations, including informal workers, the self-employed, women, young people and international migrants, as they constitute a large majority of those present in the informal economy.

“Policymakers and ILO constituents should tailor policy responses, including continued income support and efforts to assist with workers’ return to employment, to avoid large-scale and long-term marginalization from labour markets so as to ensure that no one is left behind,” she said.

Presenting on the results from the IGAD and SADC regions, Gloria Moreno-Fontes, ILO Regional Labour Migration and Mobility Specialist for Africa, said the impact of the pandemic-related restrictions on their livelihoods and other challenges were experienced by migrant workers in both regions.

These included lack of safe and secure working conditions and access to health care; lack legal protection or access to legal remedies; difficulties with integration, coupled with a rise in xenophobia; inadequate access to the labour market and provision of socio-economic assistance; and not having access to information on their rights and opportunities, and provision of social security coverage, among others.

“COVID-19 has massively affected the working and living conditions as well as prospects of migrant workers,” she said. They face job losses, pay cuts, economic hardship as well as discrimination due to COVID-19 related fears.” Other impacts mentioned included:
  • Those in the informal economy especially are vulnerable to the economic consequences and health risks of the pandemic, as they often lack financial reserves;
  • Returnees reportedly are empty-handed, and requiring extensive support to reintegrate into weakened labour markets, and
  • Facing adverse psycho-social outcomes associated with loss of income and inability to meet some of the key financial and social requirements.
  • Citing some of the key responses to the impacts for the SADC region, Moreno-Fontes indicated that migrant workers in Seychelles are able to renew their permits without leaving the country. South Africa, meanwhile, has included asylum seekers and special permit holders from various countries as recipients of a COVID-19 social relief package, and Mauritius has introduced an easier process and more beneficial immigration permit regime for foreigners seeking to work, live and invest in the country.
  • Regarding the IGAD region, Moreno-Fontes mentioned that Kenya and Uganda have introduced legal mechanisms to protect workers against COVID-19 related discrimination and unsafe working conditions. Countries including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan are providing free of charge or partially funded COVID-19 testing and health care for migrant workers. Some countries have extended migrants’ and migrant workers’ visas to prevent them from falling into an irregular situation, she said.
  • In her presentation, the labour migration specialist outlined some of the ILO’s COVID-19 responses for African migrant workers, including:
  • Supporting the affiliation of returnees to social protection schemes and inclusion in safety, health and economic policies;
  • Provision of labour inspection, occupational safety and health, working time and wages;
  • Supporting upskilling and reskilling, recognition of prior learning and skills certification, entrepreneurship training and financial education; and
  • Providing support to labour market reintegration and employability enhancement of returnees.
Contributing to the dialogue, Coumba Diop, Chief Technical Adviser for the Free Movement of Persons and Transhumance in the IGAD Region: Improving Opportunities for Regular Labour Mobility (FMPT) project, stated that the ILO is implementing the project- funded by the EU- in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), in all seven member countries– Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.

The overall objective of the project is to improve opportunities for regulated labour mobility and decent work within the IGAD countries through the development of models of intervention.

Diop noted that “IGAD countries have made commitments to achieving greater regional integration and improving migration governance through the development of legal and policy frameworks, including the establishment of a regional free movement regime, which will have an immediate effect on the decent working conditions of migrant workers.”

The ILO’s Southern Africa Migration Management (SAMM) Project is being implemented to improve migration management in the Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. It targets the SADC Member States: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The project is funded by the European Union and is implemented by the ILO in collaboration with the IOM, UNODC and UNHCR.