Labour Migration

ILO: Time to improve governance in labour migration in Latin America and the Caribbean

The number of migrant workers is rising quickly. There are migratory corridors in this region where informal and unprotected people circulate. It is urgent to tackle the labour dimension of migration, says the ILO’s Regional Director.

News | 30 August 2016
MÉXICO CITY, (ILO News) – The last five years has seen the number of migrant workers living in Latin America and the Caribbean rise from 3,2 million to 4,3, while many more circulate through migratory corridors heading to other regions; this implies challenges and opportunities to be urgently addressed, a new ILO report has concluded.

Latin American people use migration corridors to head towards other regions. In the U.S., there are 45 million migrants – and Latin American workers make up 21 million of them. In Spain, 1 in 3 foreigners come from South America, according to sources quoted in the report.

The ILO study, “Labour migration in Latin America and the Caribbean” (La migración laboral en América Latina y el Caribe) , identifies and analyzes a “compex system” of 11 main corridors use by workers, 9 of them interregional south-south corridors which connect countries within this region, and 2 extrarregional south-north corridors with the U.S. and Spain as destinations.

According to the report, the corridors are evolving permanently due to “changes in economic interdependency and in labour markets”, and are expanding in volume, dynamism and complexity.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs (centre), ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean presents the report in the Mexican capital.
“The search for work opportunities is definitely the main motivation of the migrants. Nevertheless, migratory policies are often seen from the border control and national security paradigm, and do not take into account the labour dimension,” ILO Regional Director José Manuel Salazar said, in the launching the report in the Mexican capital city.

Furthermore, in these countries “there is a clear divorce between employment policies and labour migration policies, and now it is extremely urgent for them to complement each other,” Salazar said.

He added that “nowadays very few countries from this region are excluded from migratory movements – either as origin, transit or destination countries”.

A dynamic challenge

Of the 232 million of migrants in the world in 2015, 150 million (64 per cent) are migrant workers, according to ILO global data.

27% (41 million approximately) of these workers live in the Americas – 37 million in Northern America and 4,3 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“It is a complex phenomenon, there are transit and origin countries in the region as well as destination countries; this implies challenges and frequently generates concern and uneasiness, but there also are opportunities to be taken advantage of,” said the ILO Regional Director.

According to Salazar, the ILO suggests that it is urgent to deal correctly with labour migration, by implementing good governance mechanisms, and to link it with the necessities and dynamics of the world of work. “If we can handle labour migration, we can maintain and increase inclusive economic growth in destination countries and reduce poverty in origin countries.”

The study highlights that the 11 analyzed corridors “are being constantly redesigned as to their routes, ways of intermediation and recruitment, transport systems, fixing practices, due to changes in work markets,” Salazar said.

Issues related to migratory governance, environment and climate, and political and social instability, also affect to migration flows in these corridors, he added.

The new ILO report underlines several features in the corridors: the feminization of labour migration (being women more than 50% of migrants); the high proportion of irregular and informal migrant workers, the low access to social protection; and the frequently deficient work conditions and the fact that a lot of these workers suffer from abuse, exploitation and discrimination.

Better strategies needed

“We wrote this report to draw the most updated diagnosis according to available information (which is not abundant), in order to analyze the weaknesses and challenges of public and governance policies regarding the main migratory corridors in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Salazar explained.

The report highlights that there are empties and fragmentation in regional migratory agreements, that there is a weak labour and rights perspective in migratory institutions and governing, and lack of coherence between migratory and employment policies.

The document states that stakeholders of the world of work, including Labour Ministries and employers and workers’ organizations, must participate more actively in creating migration strategies. It also warns that migrant workers do not participate enough in unionization and collective bargaining processes.

The main work and action lines suggested by the ILO for Latin America and the Caribbean are:
  • Promoting a regular, safe and equal migration;
  • Promoting fair recruitment processes;
  • Improving work conditions and formalization of migrant workers;
  • Promoting a better governability of migrations and a more solid social dialogue;
  • Use a rights perspective to tackle migration;
  • Strengthen the links between employment and labour migration policies;
  • Promoting perspectives of gender, protection of migrant children and prevention of migrant child labour; and
  • Raise awareness about the contribution to development made by migrant workers.
“The challenge is indeed large and multidimensional, and it is key to improve statistics and information about this reality, because there are a lot of lapses, information not updated … and people keep moving, nevertheless,” said ILO regional migration specialist Guillermo Dema.

ILO Regional Director stressed that “history teaches us nothing can stop migratory flows, neither fences nor walls; we also know it is not easy for destination societies to adapt to the arrival of workers, but we need to take advantage of the opportunities and the potential these human resources represent for our societies”.

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