Labour rights

Message by the ILO's Director-General on the occasion of International Migrants Day

We celebrate the contribution of women and men migrants to growth and development in both their host and home countries. They replenish labour markets with much-needed skills and human and social capital.

Statement | Geneva | 18 December 2012
We celebrate the contribution of women and men migrants to growth and development in both their host and home countries. They replenish labour markets with much-needed skills and human and social capital. In this inter-connected world, demographic shifts which generate shortages of labour and skills at all levels, often in parallel with high unemployment or slack employment creation, raise serious challenges for the prospects of economic growth in the countries concerned.

The search for decent jobs that can support decent lives for workers and their families is a primary driving force of international migration today, and movements within the global South are just as significant as South-North migration.

Unfortunately,migrants often easily become scapegoats when economic and social conditions deteriorate, as has been evident in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis. In many cases, migrant workers have been subjected to harassment and violence, blamed for rising unemployment and downward pressure on wages. Such reaction may translate into a tightening of immigration policies, sometimes irrespective of actual or projected labour market needs. Yet, available evidence suggests that, where ILO standards on wages and working conditions are implemented, migration has little or no effect on either.

At the same time, the positive contribution of migrants– in terms of job creation through entrepreneurship, supplying necessary goods and services to populations in the countries of destination, and filling gaps in the labour market – is often understated.

It is now all the more urgent to ensure that migrant workers enjoy the rights and protection to which they are entitled under international law, such as those set out in the two pioneering ILO Conventions on migrant workers – the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97) and the Migrant Workers’(Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143) – as well as the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990; the ILO Convention concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) is relevant as many domestic workers are also migrants.

Employment prospects worldwide remain weak. With a world of work in crisis, migrant workers – especially those with low or middle-level skills, women migrant workers, and young migrants –all too often face even more severe difficulties than others with respect to underpayment or non-payment of wages,occupational health risks, informal contractual arrangements, exclusion from social protection, and discrimination.

Tens of thousands are driven into irregular status and work, which increases their vulnerability to abuse and sub-standard working conditions. This puts law-abiding enterprises at a disadvantage and lays waste migrants’ skills and their potential to help boost economic development and recovery.

Governance of labour migration requires balancing a host of issues and interests, involving a range of actors nationally and across borders.Migration policy therefore has critical labour market dimensions. Enterprises and employers’ associations can promote migration policies and practices which take into account the needs of the labour market. Workers’ organizations have a key role to play in ensuring that migrant workers are justly treated.And both are central to the policy dialogue. The ILO’sMultilateral Framework on Labour Migration (2006)offers valuable guidance on approaches that lead to better-informed migration policies.

Increasing well-being in a globalized world, improving the functioning of labour markets, improving productivity and keeping a competitive edge will all involve dealing positively and constructively with issues of migration and diversity.