133rd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union

ILO Director-General: Access to labour markets, a powerful engine of integration of migrant populations into societies

Transcript of ILO Director-General Guy Ryder’s Address to the 133rd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) during the Opening Session of the General Debate on “The moral and economic imperative for fairer, smarter and more human migration”.

Statement | Centre international de Conférences de Genève (CICG) | 18 October 2015
Mr. President, Secretary General, Honourable Members of Parliament,

Firstly, let me thank you for this opportunity to address your Assembly this morning. I benefit of course from doing so after you have heard already from my friend and colleague [IOM Director-General] Ambassador Swing. You will allow me also the opportunity to underline how important the ILO regards its partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of an agreement of cooperation that we signed in 1999 which we are pursuing actively but not least through the publication and launching tomorrow of the Handbook on Migration, Human Rights and Governance.

Ladies and Gentleman, you have chosen an issue to discuss this morning which can hardly be of more topical importance. One advantage of coming to talk at 11 o’clock in the morning is that you get to see the news before you come to work. I watched three news channels this morning, all of them led on what they variously described as the crisis of migration or the crisis of refugees. This is a truly global issue. In reading the newspaper on the way here, it seems that Swiss citizens going to vote today will above all else have issues of asylum and migration policy on their minds. So you could not have chosen a better subject.

The International Labour Organization, I think, finds itself at the intersection of the economic considerata and the moral considerata, which must guide our approach to the management of migration. Our Constitution – and it’s only one hundred years old – speaks to the needs of protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own. It makes also the point often quoted that “labour is not a commodity”. And I think you see in these two thoughts that intersection of the economic and the moral behind the need for smart, fair and humane migration policy. And here is the irony of our times, the paradox that policy-makers simply have to address. At a time when the economic case for migration – and Ambassador Swing has outlined it very well – has never been stronger, it seems that the social and political obstacles have never been greater either. This is what we have to address and we have to do so in this toxic environment where we do see political attitudes, we do see popular opinion which reflects what one might call nationalistic, isolationist, identity politics coming to the fore. The question is how can we move forward in these difficult circumstances?

And I think that the first thing that we all have to do is to join forces to confront anecdote, prejudice, misinformation, stereotypes with facts. And the economic facts speak very loudly of the economic benefits of migration. A study that we recently presented to the G20, along with our colleagues in the World Bank and the OECD, concludes very clearly that in most countries, except those with a large share of older migrants, migrants contribute in taxes and social contributions much more than they receive in individual benefits. These are the facts.

The other facts concern the disadvantages, to put it no more strongly, that migrants themselves face. Migrants habitually have to make substantial payments to recruitment agencies and other intermediaries, often placing themselves in severe debt. Migrants generally suffer from major wage gaps compared to local populations. Migrants generally lack access to social security benefits which they themselves finance disproportionately. They also suffer from non-recognition of their skills and qualifications, and face difficulties on return to their countries of origin.

The ILO brings two fundamental principles into play in its standards to address these questions. The first is the basic principle of equal treatment between migrants and local workers and the second, specifically, is that fee-charging employment agencies should never charge fees to the worker but to the employer. At the same time, Ladies and Gentleman, I think we need to beware against making the case for migration, fair migration, simply on the basis of economic calculations. If we engage in an act of economic reductionism of this type, we run the risk, I think, of falling precisely into treating labour as a commodity, as one more economic resource to be moved around, and we also risk ignoring the humanitarian obligations that we face as we move forward.
But let us also be realistic. As Parliamentarians, you are obliged to reflect the realities of your societies. We know that the case for migration looks different when made in the corporate boardroom than in the societies, the communities and the streets where its consequences are played out day by day by our citizens. We know as well that the case for migration looks different within one and the same government depending on whether it is the ministry of interior or of economics or of labour which are looking at the issues.

But let’s be sure about one thing – and here I join Ambassador Swing – the movement of people internationally will continue to be a key and growing feature of our world, one of the mega drivers of trends, mega drivers of change. In the ILO we understand that and we understand too that whatever motives lie behind movements, at one point or another, work almost inevitably becomes a part of the story. Access to labour markets, and more importantly perhaps the terms of access to labour markets, is perhaps the most powerful engine of integration of migrant populations into societies where they make their home. And to the familiar drivers of mobility – demographics, differential economic and social performance, the effects of conflict – we must add new elements, those of climate change which I think are beginning to be understood more clearly and dealt with, but much less understood [are] the effects of technological innovation on the spatial location of production and growth. I believe, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we have important instruments to bring to bear on these issues. In the international field, we do now have the 2030 [Sustainable] Development Agenda, which speaks to the need of safe migration and the international system collectively must gear up to deliver on that.

I want to finish, as Ambassador Swing did, by emphasizing the importance of the role of parliamentarians. When the International Labour Organization was founded, there was a quintessentially important debate about the role of international labour legislation adopted every year by the International Labour Conference, the “world parliament of labour” as we call it. There were those who felt that any Convention adopted here in Geneva could be automatically binding on member States. That view did not prevail. The situation today is that any Convention adopted at the ILO Conference now comes to parliament for consideration for ratification or not. So the setting of the normative framework for migration is in your hands and there are two particular Conventions that I want to draw your attention to, which are of key importance in our current circumstances. The first is Convention No. 189, adopted in 2011, on Domestic Workers, mostly migrants, overwhelmingly women, over 50 million who need that Convention to be ratified, and last year the new Protocol on Forced Labour which addresses the scourge of human trafficking. Please have them examined in your parliaments, please ratify, please help us to make real this struggle of fair, humane migration.

Thank you for your attention.