Realizing a Fair Migration Agenda: Labour flows between Asia and the Arab States

The largest migrant flows from South Asia and parts of South-East Asia are to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, who currently rely on foreign labour to fill almost 90 per cent of private sector jobs, often in construction, service, and domestic work. In total there are over 22 million migrant workers in the GCC countries, most of them from South and South-East Asia. Every year more than two million workers go to the GCC from South Asia.

Background

In December 2014, the two-day experts meeting on Realizing a Fair Migration Agenda: Labour Flows between Asia and the Arab States was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of the meeting was for leading experts to make a technical or expert assessment of key  ssues and the way forward to realize a fair migration agenda. The Fair Migration Agenda, as outlined by ILO Director General Guy Ryder at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June this year, calls for “constructing an agenda for fair migration which not only respects the fundamental rights of migrant workers but also offers them real opportunities for decent work.” A Fair Migration Agenda is one in which there is a fair sharing of the prosperity that migrants help to create. This can be achieved through building migration regimes that respond equitably to the interests of countries of origin and destination, migrant workers, employers, and nationals.

The largest migrant flows from South Asia and parts of South-East Asia are to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, who currently rely on foreign labour to fill almost 90 per cent of private sector jobs, often in construction, service, and domestic work. In total there are over 22 million migrant workers in the GCC countries, most of them from South and South-East Asia. Every year more than two million workers go to the GCC from South Asia. These numbers may likely rise due in part to massive infrastructure projects, such as those associated with the Qatar World Cup 2022 and the UAE World Expo 2020.

Participants at the meeting included representatives from six GCC states, five South Asian countries, and two South-East Asian countries. Government experts from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Asian countries as well as leading scholars from both sides participated. In addition, ILO Governing Body members from both the workers and employers groups were among the participants. In total, the experts meeting hosted around 45 participants. The expert meeting was structured around 5 themes: fair recruitment; decent employment and working conditions for domestic workers and construction workers; recognizing the skills of potential and returning workers; increasing the development impact of migration; and promoting partnerships among government and social partners.

These topics were covered in a background paper that served as a basis for discussions during the meeting. Leading experts in the region made a technical assessment of key issues and the way forward to realize a fair migration agenda. A good degree of consensus was reached among technical experts to improve the management of labour migration flows and to ensure better protection of women and men workers in these flows.

This series of meetings builds upon a number of other initiatives on labour migration flows between South Asia and the Arab States. In July 2013, the Dhaka Statement was adopted at the ‘Intergovernmental Regional Seminar on Promoting Cooperation for Safe Migration and Decent Work’, organized by the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment of the Government of Bangladesh. The Dhaka Statement outlines key actions under the areas of effective governance of labour migration, protection of migrant workers, particularly women migrant workers, and regulation of recruitment.

Objectives

  • To disseminate the highlights of the discussions and common points from the Experts Meeting among Asia tripartite constituents; and
  • To develop country of origin inputs to the action plan around the 5 themes to be adopted at the interregional Ministerial Meeting planned for the last quarter of 2015.

Concurrently, inter-regional expert working groups will be formed, consisting of panel members (and other interested experts), to provide technical guidance with regards to the 5 themes.

The inter-regional ministerial meeting will be held in close consultation with members of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue. The results of the Ministerial Meeting, anticipated in September 2015, will be shared at the 17th ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) in the first quarter of 2016. The APRM will set regional priorities for Asia for the period 2016-20.