2013 High-Level Dialogue on Migration

Labour mobility and rights at centre of debate on international migration and development

Experts from the ILO and elsewhere have gathered at a final roundtable to discuss labour mobility in migration and development issues prior to the High-Level Dialogue.

News | 10 June 2013
Chief of the ILO’s International Migration Branch, Michelle Leighton addresses the audience.  Photo: © UN Web TV
The search for decent work and a better livelihood is the primary cause of migratory movements worldwide. On 7 June in New York, UN delegations and experts gathered at a fourth and final roundtable held in preparation for the upcoming High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

The event, which focused on labour mobility and development, was organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with the Governments of the United Arab Emirates and Canada.

Chief of the ILO’s International Migration Branch, Michelle Leighton addressed the need to better reflect the world of work into the debates on international development and migration. She cautioned that the analysis by development experts of global flows of money and workers must not eclipse the real-life challenges faced by the individuals who leave their place of origin in search of a better life.

“The discourse around development planning has in some cases run dangerously close to viewing migrant workers as a commodity, asking, ‘How can they be better exported, imported, and measured for economic impact or gain?’” Instead, Leighton said that answering their needs, in terms of family security, health, decent working conditions, and combatting human rights abuses and xenophobia, should all become central objectives of migration policy. She defended the implementation of “appropriate mechanisms and processes to ensure that labour migration between countries and regions is more equitable and its governance more effective”, along with “international standards for protection for migrant workers” and better engagement of all stakeholders in the world of work, including representatives of governments, employers and workers.

Professor Philip Martin, from the University of California Davis, spoke about the various phases of labour migration. He emphasized that workers’ rights must be protected at every stage, during the recruitment, remittance of earnings and return of migrant workers to their places of origin. He also described the alarming extent to which low-skilled workers are often obliged to bear expenses related to the recruitment process.

“Sometimes workers pay a third of what they are going to earn abroad just for the right to go,” Martin said. Reducing the financial burden for workers in the recruitment stage, as well as the costs associated with sending remittances, are critical issues for migration policy to address.

Ms. Marcia Bebianno Simoes, Migration Specialist at the Organization of American States (OAS) presented a joint OECD-OAS project to evaluate migration trends in the Americas entitled “Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas”. The project documented a notable decline in traditional migration to typical OECD countries and an increase to new OECD destinations such as Chile, Japan, and New Zealand. Despite a global economic downturn, total migration from the Americas fell by only eight per cent between 2008 and 2010.

“Overall, the situation of immigrants from the Americas in the labour market has not improved,” Simoes said. “Not even the great recession has put a dent in the migration flows from the Americas.”

Goran Hultin, CEO of the Caden Corporation said considerable global shortages and mismatches are preventing employers from finding the necessary skills they need to fill their jobs and touted ILO conventions as key instruments in protecting migrant workers and the international community should focus on their implementation.