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UN Convention on migrant workers rights enters into force

GENEVA (ILO Online) – In a major development aimed at improving the lives of the world's vast mobile workforce, the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families enters into force on today (1 July).

Article | 02 July 2003

The new Convention, adopted by the UN in 1990 and now ratified by 22 states, is considered as an advancement on basic principles regarding migrant labourers laid down by two ILO Conventions on migrant workers adopted more than 25 years ago.
The Convention's entry into force resulted from the promotional Global Campaign effort forged by a unique alliance of three United Nations agencies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with the participation of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and 10 non-governmental organizations concerned with protecting the rights of migrant workers

The new Convention will be applicable from today (1 July) in the 22 primarily emigration countries – or countries where migrants originate – that have ratified it since 1993, with another 10 countries signing in preparation for ratification.
So far none of the world's major host countries of migrants and immigrants has ratified the Convention.

Despite their vast numbers and economic importance, migrant workers often lack basic legal protections and are considered cheap, docile and flexible labour. The number of people living and working outside their countries of origin has doubled since 1975 to a global total of 175 million, representing about 3 per cent of the world's population.
The ILO estimates 120 million – the large majority – of these to be migrant workers and members of their families. (Refugees, asylum seekers and permanent immigrants make up the remainder of the total.)

"Under contemporary globalization, it is quite likely these figures will double again in the next quarter century", said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia welcoming today's entry into force of the Convention.

There is no sign of reversal in migration flows, according to the United Nations 2002 Migration Report.
Between 1990 and 2000, the developed countries have experienced the greatest increase in migrants: 13 million or 48 per cent in North America and 8 million or 16 per cent in Europe.
Today, nearly one out of every 10 inhabitants in the developed countries is an immigrant, compared to one out of 70 in developing countries, says the report.

"An international consensus is emerging that regulation of international labour migration cannot be left solely in the hands of national interests and market mechanisms. Rather, it requires organization through bilateral and multilateral agreements and adherence to international standards", said Mr. Somavia.

The economic importance of international migration is expressed in a number of ways. Migration not only provides an individual with an income, but also produces huge remittances to their homes countries.
For some countries, these remittances represent a significant source of foreign exchange earnings.
In 2001, they amounted to US$10 billion in India and Mexico, $6.4 billion in the Philippines, $3.3 billion in Morocco, $2.9 billion in Egypt, $2.8 billion in Turkey, $2.3 billion in Lebanon, and $2.1 billion in Bangladesh

The remittances can also represent a large proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also in 2001, this proportion came to 22.8 per cent of the GDP in Jordan, 13.8 per cent in El Salvador and Lebanon, 9.7 per cent in Morocco, 9.3 per cent in the Dominican Republic, 8.9 per cent in the Philippines, and 7 per cent in Sri Lanka.

From the view of the ILO, a "win-win" formula for achieving a sustainable migration regime in the 21st century requires the acknowledgment of looming demands for labour, not only in Europe and North America, but elsewhere in industrializing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The UN estimates that for a number of European and Asian countries this would mean working till 77 years of age to avoid more immigration.

This means putting in place policies and structures to properly manage and regulate migration, which in turn requires a significant degree of social consensus. Building such a consensus requires involvement of the parties most directly affected by labour migration, workers and employers in particular.

It is equally important to the ILO to ensure decent treatment for migrants, whether they be temporary migrants for employment or immigrants. Irregular migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse because the threat of apprehension and deportation thwarts unionizing and impedes exposure of dangerous working conditions. The UN Convention also proposes action to eradicate clandestine movements of migrants through sanctions for smugglers and employers of undocumented migrants.

The first conventions on migration were established under ILO auspices. The ILO Migration for Employment Convention, 1949 (No. 97) provided the basis for the modern normative framework. The ILO Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 ( No. 143) addressed questions of irregular migration, and explicitly incorporated reference to application of the fundamental human rights norms embodied in the instruments of the UN Bill of Human Rights.

The two ILO conventions provide a basic framework for national legislation and practice on labour migration. They stipulate that States actively facilitate fair recruitment practices and transparent consultation with their social partners, reaffirm non-discrimination, establish a principle of equality of treatment between nationals and regular migrant workers in access to social security, conditions of work, remuneration and trade union membership. Fifty States have ratified one or both of the ILO Conventions, including eleven member States of the European Union.

The application of the Convention will be monitored by ten experts who will form the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The experts, elected by the countries that have ratified the text will be recognized as impartial authorities in the field covered by the Convention.

Labour migration will be the topic of the General Discussion at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 2004. Main themes of discussion will be labour migration in the era of globalization, policies and structures for more orderly migration for employment, and improving migrant workers' protection.