ILO Director-General: Migrants must receive equal treatment in the labour market

Workers rights must be put at the centre of the agenda when it comes to dealing with migration. That’s the key message of the “Fair Migration” report presented to the International Labour Conference by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO. Protecting local and migrant workers equally is the best way to reconcile social concerns and economic benefits, says Mr Ryder in an interview with ILO Radio.

Audio | 28 May 2014
ILO Radio: “It is estimated that there are 232 million migrants in the global workforce and all the indications are that that number will increase in coming decades. Migration is now centre-stage in national and international political agendas, and for many the issue is clouded with anxiety. ILO Radio spoke to Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, and asked him if people were right to be concerned about increasing migration.”

Guy Ryder: “There are worries out there about migration. We face, I think, a strange paradox. And that strange paradox is that the economic benefits of increased migration are obvious. We have labour shortages in some countries, excessive labour supply in others, and all of the economists will tell you that in overall terms it makes sense to get people where the work is and to get their productive potential realized. So there is a big economic case for migration. But at the same time, and we’re seeing it in elections and we’re seeing it in opinion polls, the political space for migration, making the case for migration, is closing down on us. So the question is - and I hope that our conference discussion is going to help us – the question is: how can we reconcile the economic benefits and the social concerns? And I think the ILO needs to be part of the search for a solution to that paradox.

ILO Radio : “Now you have said in your opening remarks yesterday that migration poses major policy challenges for governments. Broadly, what are those challenges and how should governments be responding?”

Guy Ryder: “I think that the challenge comes precisely from resolving this paradox that I’ve mentioned. Now, it seems to me, and it’s no accident that my report is called an “Agenda for Fair Migration”. Governments need to make sure that their approaches to migration are rights-based. It seems to me the only way, really, to make sure that economic benefits and social concerns are reconciled is by putting rights at the centre of the agenda. What does that mean? It means that by respecting the rights of migrant workers, by ensuring that they receive equal treatment to local workers in terms of conditions of work, you both protect local workers from the concern that their own conditions are going to be undermined, so you begin to remove that worry that somehow migrants are going to lead to a regression of working conditions. And at the same time, you offer decent work to the people concerned. And I think that’s why the ILO’s concern with labour standards and the central part that has in our own organization can play a big role in the way forward.”

ILO Radio: “Well, let’s look more specifically then at the role of the ILO. There is an extensive UN apparatus devoted to migration and migration issues. What does the ILO or what can the ILO add to the conversation?”

Guy Ryder: “Well, you’re right. The multilateral system, the international system, has actually a remarkably complex set of structures and processes going on to deal with migration. Our agenda, what we bring to the show, is this right-based approach and is our expertise on labour markets. And let’s remember, migrants move fundamentally because of work. Even if you’re a refugee, eventually, the story becomes on of a search for work. So I think migration is a work-centered phenomenon and the ILO is par excellence the work centered agency. We’ve got to be at the center of the way forward.”

ILO Radio: “Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, on his report on migration presented to the International Labour Conference. Reporting from the Palais de Nations from Geneva for ILO Radio, this is Pete Foster.