BANGKOK (ILO News) – The annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new plan designed to provide a fair deal for migrant workers. It’s estimated there are around 25 million migrant workers in Asian economies – 29 per cent of the global total of 86 million.
Migration is an increasingly important social, political and economic issue in Asia . Every year some two million Asian workers leave their homes for short-term work in other countries. Although a growing number seek jobs on other continents, the largest flows are probably still from one Asian country to another – in particular from Myanmar to Thailand, from Indonesia to Malaysia, and from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran.
Many countries both send and receive migrant workers. For example, Thailand sends workers to Taiwan (China ), Japan and Israel, and receives unskilled migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. There are also thought to be several million so-called irregular migrants (those working without legal authorisation) in the region, notably those from Myanmar in Thailand, Filipinos and Indonesians in Malaysia, and Nepalese and Bangladeshis in India.
The plan of action adopted by the ILO 92nd International Labour Conference is designed to ensure that migrant workers are covered by the provisions of international labour standards, while benefiting from applicable national labour and social laws.
“Migration is one of the most contentious issues facing the world today”, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told the government, worker and employer delegates from 119 member States who comprise the Conference Committee on Migrant Workers. “This plan of action protects the rights of one of the most vulnerable sectors … it’s a major achievement that serves as a milestone for the future.”
In Asia migrant workers generally receive lower wages than their local counterparts doing the same jobs. Generally they are also more vulnerable to problems such as bad health and safety conditions, mass deportations and human rights violations.
Worldwide, an increasing number of migrant workers are female, and Asia leads this global trend. Hundreds of thousands of women, mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka, emigrate every year to work in domestic service, entertainment nursing and teaching.
After two weeks of debate, the Committee reached consensus on Wednesday night on the plan of action that calls for the development of a non-binding multilateral framework for a rights-based approach to labour migration and the establishment of an ILO dialogue on migration in partnership with international and multilateral organizations.
The framework will comprise international guidelines on such aspects as:
- Promoting “managed migration” for employment purposes, including agreements between host countries and countries of origin addressing different aspects of migration – such as expanding avenues for regular migration, increasing portability of social security entitlements, promoting investments from remittances and promoting integration and social inclusion.
- Promoting decent work for migrant workers.
- Licensing and supervision of recruitment and contracting agencies for migrant workers in accordance with ILO conventions and recommendations, with the provision of clear and enforceable contracts by those agencies.
- Preventing abusive practices, migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons, protecting their human rights and preventing and combating irregular labour migration.
- Addressing the specific risks for all migrant workers – men and women – in certain occupations and sectors with particular emphasis on dirty, demeaning and dangerous jobs, and on women in domestic service and the informal economy.
- Improving labour inspection and creation of channels for migrant workers to lodge complaints and seek remedy without intimidation.
- Promoting measures to ensure that all migrant workers benefit from the provisions of all relevant international labour standards.
- Introducing measures to ensure that all migrant workers are covered by national labour legislation and applicable social laws.
- Implementing policies to encourage return migration, reintegration into the country of origin and transfer of capital and technology by migrants.
The Committee’s report asked the ILO to present the framework for managing migration to the Organization’s Governing Body in its November 2005 session. The ILO will convene expert meetings and ask member States to contribute best practices for inclusion in the guidelines which will be disseminated through ILO technical cooperation activities, especially those aimed at enhancing capacities of newly emerging migration countries.
The Committee reached consensus on the “delicate and sensitive political issues” without any vote being taken, a tribute to the ILO’s unique tripartite structure, Mr. Somavia noted. Committee President Yero Dé, Minister of Labor and Employment in Senegal , said the plan of action “will allow us to move forward and to navigate the very difficult waters of international migration”.
For more information visit: /public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc92/pdf/rep-vi.pdf
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 Figures from “Towards a fair deal for migrant workers in the global economy” ILC 92nd Session 2004