Questions and Answers

International Labour Conference to discuss labour migration and fair recruitment

ILO News talked to Ryszard Cholewinski, ILO Migration Policy Specialist, about current trends and the importance of addressing governance challenges in a changing labour migration landscape.

Comment | 02 June 2017
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In today’s globalized world, labour migration is a rising policy priority. Economic hardship and geopolitical crises leading to decent work deficits are resulting in growing and diverse migratory movements. In addition, this increasing complexity in labour migration gives rise to a number of governance challenges. This is why this year’s International Labour Conference (ILC) from June 5-16 will hold a general discussion on labour migration governance and fair recruitment. This discussion is expected to make a major contribution to the global debates on migration.

ILO News: The current political debate on migration is often based on misconceptions about the relationship between migration, jobs and development. What are some of the ways in which labour migration benefits migrant workers and their families, as well as their origin and destination countries?

Labour migration benefits migrant workers and their families, particularly those from the poorest countries, through a significant increase in income and the possibility to send remittances back home. Moreover, migrant remittances, which reached USD 429 billion to developing countries in 2016, can help fund education and health care where there are gaps in such provision in the country of origin. But migrants also contribute to sustainable development outcomes in their origin countries in other ways through financial investments as well as human and social capital acquired abroad such as new skills, ideas and know-how. They also benefit destination countries by meeting labour market shortages at all skill levels in critical occupations and sectors, paying taxes, and by making social security contributions to strained pension systems in aging developed societies.

ILO News: Well-governed migration as a key to sustainable development is recognized in the 2030 Agenda and the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration due to be adopted in 2018. Could you outline some of the current trends in labour migration and the governance challenges they represent, particularly for temporary workers?


The ILO estimates that migrant workers account for almost 73 per cent of the 206.6 million working age migrant population (15 years and over), and the increasing feminization of labour migration is reflected in the fact that nearly 44 per cent of all migrant workers are women. The proportion of women among migrant domestic workers stands at over 73 per cent.

A significant trend is the increase in migration within and across regions in the global South. Today, the majority of migrant workers (51.5 per cent) live in the global South. In some key migration corridors – Asia to Arab States and within ASEAN member countries – the number of migrants, many of whom are migrant workers, has tripled since 1990.These figures demonstrate that migration for work is central to most international migration today and therefore this reality needs to be strongly reflected in the commitments that UN member States stand to make in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted at an intergovernmental conference in 2018.

While labour migration brings many benefits to migrant workers and their families, temporary migrant workers, many of whom are employed in low-skilled and low-wage sectors such as agriculture, domestic work, construction and manufacturing, experience the largest decent work deficits in terms of abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices, violations of their rights at work, wage penalties as compared with national workers, skills mismatches, and lack of social protection.

ILO News:
Poor governance of labour migration between countries in migration corridors and within regions has tended to increase the social and economic costs for workers and business. What policies could be initiated to protect migrant workers and reduce the costs of labour migration?

The costs associated with low-skilled temporary labour migration in particular for both workers and business can be addressed through enhancing the role of labour market institutions and active labour market policies, with a view to ensuring that they devote greater attention to the situation of migrant workers. For example, this can be done through the provision of reliable and accurate information in the country of origin before departure and on arrival in the destination country, targeted labour inspection in those sectors where migrant workers tend to be disproportionately represented, assistance from public employment services to better integrate migrant workers in the labour market, more possibilities to change employers while in the destination country, and easier access to grievance mechanisms and effective remedies in the event of labour rights’ violations. Addressing these costs brings significant advantages to businesses in terms of their being able to operate on a level-playing field and increased productivity. It is also important to align national employment policies with migration policies and ensure that labour ministries play a key role in the design, implementation and monitoring of the latter, in close collaboration with social partners.

ILO News: How important is the work of the ILO’s Fair Recruitment Initiative and the recently adopted ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment in this regard?

The high costs of recruitment, in terms of the fees and related costs paid by workers, is particularly troubling in some labour migration corridors. Surveys of migrant workers at destination and on return conducted by ILO and the World Bank show that such fees and costs can amount to almost one year of a worker’s expected salary. ILO standards prohibit, with some exceptions, the charging of any fees and costs to workers, and this principle is reaffirmed in the ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment, adopted at a tripartite meeting of experts in September 2016 and approved by the ILO Governing Body in November 2016. The ILO Principles and Guidelines, which are based on internationally recognized human rights and labour standards, apply to both internal and cross-border recruitment and are targeted at all actors (governments, employers and labour recruiters) in the recruitment process. The ILO is presently engaged in operationalizing these Principles and Guidelines, including through implementation of development cooperation activities in certain migration corridors (e.g. Nepal-Tunisia under the Integrated Programme for Fair Recruitment - FAIR).

They are an important part of the ILO’s multi-stakeholder Fair Recruitment Initiative, which brings together governments, social partners, international agencies, and NOGs, and puts social dialogue at the centre. The Initiative aims to prevent human trafficking and forced labour, protect workers, including migrant workers, from abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices, and reduce the costs of labour migration, through enhancing the global knowledge base, improving regulatory approaches, promoting fair business practices, and empowering and protecting workers.

ILO News: How can social dialogue on labour migration be strengthened at the various levels of migration governance?

The meaningful participation of the frontline actors in the real economy at all levels (local, national, bilateral, regional, and interregional) of labour migration governance is key to realizing fair migration across borders. Social dialogue on labour migration can be strengthened through the close involvement of social partners in the development, implementation and monitoring of national labour migration policies. Bilateral agreements between origin and destination countries also need to involve social partners in their design and implementation and there are some good practices in this regard, for example the Germany-Philippines agreement on health workers, which includes trade unions from both countries in the joint committee set up under the agreement to monitor and evaluate its implementation. Trade unions in origin and destination countries are also increasingly cooperating across borders to better protect migrant workers. At the regional level, there are a number of good examples of tripartite structures within regional economic communities, such as the ASEAN Migrant Labour Forum, an open platform for governments, employers and workers and civil society to discuss issues affecting women and men migrant workers in the ASEAN.