ILO Statement to Fourth Roundtable on Migration and Development

The search for decent work is at the center of most migration

Migrants are contributing to economies through their labour and the businesses they create, as consumers, taxpayers and agents of technology transfer.

Statement | New York | 07 June 2013

High-level Roundtable on Labour Migration and Development
7 June 2013

There are over 100 million migrant workers living and working around the globe. Together with their families they represent most of the estimated 214 million people living outside their country of origin. Almost half of this total are women, migrating increasingly for employment. About one in eight are between the ages of 15 and 24.

For most, finding better paying, decent jobs, is at the heart of their quest to move. The lack of economic livelihood in their home country is a driving force. Young people entering the workforce are particularly affected. In Spain the youth unemployment rates are now at 56% , and in most countries, developing and developed, they are 2-3 times that of the general unemployment rate. Consequently, more and more young people are compelled to emigrate from countries that will need their young human capital for development. The ILO figures show we face a continuing rise in under 24 unemployment over the next five years. Last week, in commenting on the now staggering 62% unemployment rate of youth in Greece, the BBC referred to these young workers as the “crisis generation.”

For workers of every age who are leaving rural areas, much of their drive is forced by significant problems related to lack of agricultural jobs in part due to land degradation, water scarcity or climate disasters. Unsustainable development, poor development, and inequitable development lead to failure in the jobs market. We know the reverse is also true. Sustainable development that provides an abundance of jobs to match workers’ skills at all levels, that provides decent wages and social benefits with an increasing (rather than decreasing) middle-class, and that provides environmentally sound, healthy, and equitable conditions of work will serve as a sustainable engine for growth and innovation.

These jobs are at the center of development. The search for decent work is at the center of most migration.

Labour mobility has been part and parcel of economic development for some time. Migrants are contributing to the economies of host countries not only through their labour, but through the creation of enterprises, development of new markets, creation of commercial ties between countries of origin and destination, the transfer of technology; through the improvement of migrant children’s education, and the transfer of their skills acquired abroad, as well as through the payment of taxes and other financial contributions.

They are sending about $500 billion dollars a year back to their home countries (as estimated by the World Bank in 2012): over $400 billion of this goes to support families in developing countries. This reflects 3 times the total amount of overseas development assistance and foreign direct investment combined. What is more remarkable is that the level of remittances globally continues to grow year after year, in spite of economic or political crises. Last year saw a 5% increase in remittances to developing countries, more than a ten-fold increase since 1990 when remittances totaled just 35 billion dollars.

In the rush to harness these financial flows for macro-economic prosperity, the discourse around development planning has in some cases run dangerously close to viewing migrant workers as a commodity: how can they be better exported, imported, and measured for economic impact or gain? In the worst forms--for unscrupulous agents—how can they be bartered, trafficked and traded?

Much less attention is focused on answering the needs of the men and women migrant workers who help to fuel their home and host country economies: how can migrant workers be better empowered to support their families, local communities to achieve equitable development?

Their needs in terms of family security and health, decent working conditions, and reduction of human rights abuses and xenophobia have not been a priority yet for most migration policy or regional governance mechanisms. Their needs for job matching, skills up-scaling, portability of pensions, and reintegration upon returning home have not been addressed yet by many countries, rich or poor.

Until we recognize fully that labour mobility is critical to development strategies, development will neither be sustainable nor equitable for the many.

Consider, for example, that migrants are not a static function of the labour markets of one country—but are dynamic by definition. Migrants can move between the labour markets of host and home countries as often as every season. Workers may come from the labour force of one country, join the labour force of another country, leave and enter a third country, and travel home all in the span of a few years. To be relevant and responsive, development strategies will have to be more inclusive—this means doing a better job of understanding and addressing the needs of all workers, including migrant workers.

Given this new reality, last November the ILO’s Governing Body called on the International Labour Office to identify key priorities for substantive follow-up to the U.N. High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, and to ensure that a central element of HLD discussions is the need for effectively operating labour markets that offer decent work. The ILO has a distinct constitutional mandate on labour migration to protect migrant workers. In addition to establishing standards on governance, rights and social protection of migrant workers contained two migration conventions (Nos. 97 and 143), Domestic Workers convention (189) and the Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration, treaties on recruitment (181), contracts, and social security. We are thus in a unique position to contribute significantly to the development debates.

In particular, we have accumulated good practices from our field work and the experiences of others that can be shared from one community to another, or from one country to another. These are publicly available on the web in the ILO database. We are in a continuing process of identifying new innovations and best practices. The ILO’s background note to GFMD statement has an Annex that highlights some of our more recent work on migration policy development projects by region.

I want to mention just a few that can help ensure migration contributes to smart development. Cooperatives, and other collective enterprises, are being used by migrant workers to assist development. They are owned and democratically controlled by their members, balancing profits with human needs.

Cooperative systems in 20 European countries already control 21% of the market share of deposits among 3,874 local banks with 181 million customers. They have 5.5 trillion Euros in assets; while credit unions have 200 million members globally and over 1 trillion in assets.

Migrant workers are starting to create cooperatives to provide both social protection and migrant-to-migrant financial lending. In Indonesia, a group of returning migrant workers established a savings and credit cooperative specifically to provide affordable financial products and services to fellow former migrant workers and their families. Together with the ILO, through the ILO’s Cross-Border Labour Migration Project, the cooperative expanded its services by providing management and business start-up training, which have stimulated many returning migrant workers to open their own businesses. Another group, Ecofemme, is do similar work for migrant women in Korea. In the Philippines agricultural Coops allow migrants to save and invest with the cooperative, and take training skills home.

Another important area is to share best practice to facilitate institutional capacity building for better migration governance schemes and legislation. ILO has been working with many countries, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Moldova and Ukraine, among others in Latin America and Africa, and particularly South-South migration. ILO, for ex., has assisted the Southern African Development Community in its creation of an unprecedented Regional Workplan on Labour Migration to facilitate economic development and skills sharing. It incorporated many stakeholders, trade unions, employers associations, and migrant workers in every stage of the planning.

Countries and stakeholders are also asking us to help develop appropriate social security coverage schemes. The ILO most recently helped the East Africa Community (EAC) to adopt a legal instrument to coordinate the social security systems of the EAC member States----to improve social security coverage of African migrant workers.
In Asia, we are now working with ASEAN on the possibility for developing a multilateral framework agreement on social security (especially for old-age benefits) for member countries. In the Philippines, we are working on streamlining E-money and remittance transfers to extend social security and national health insurance coverage to migrant workers abroad.

In every region we work we are collecting experience and proven practices to improve labour migration institutions and policies. We believe these are central for governments to consider in fostering smarter and more equitable development strategies.

I want to conclude by mentioning how ILO is planning to move forward. In late September just prior to the HLD, ILO will be hosting a special Roundtable to showcase leading innovations and approaches in these areas with leaders in government, private sector, and employers and workers associations. The ILO D.G. has also formally offered ILO to chair the multi-agency Global Migration Group (GMG) next year.

In November, the ILO will be convening a Tripartite meeting on labour migration to help identify key strategies for ILO in future work in Four thematic areas: (i) Follow-up and inputs to the post-2015 development agenda; (ii) Protection of migrant workers, especially the most vulnerable low and middle-skilled workers; (iii) Labour market assessment needs, including skills recognition and certification; and (iv) International cooperation and social dialogue to support better governance of labour migration and regional mobility.

In final note, the issues most pertinent to migrant workers as actors in development has yet to be deeply embedded in development strategies. Given the fundamental links of development and labour migration, the world of work needs to be adequately reflected in and mainstreamed into debates on international development at all levels. This should include a focus on:
  • How to design appropriate mechanisms and processes to ensure that labour migration between countries and regions is more equitable and its governance more effective.
  • How to better build-in international standards for protection for migrant workers, e.g., to prevent abuse in recruitment and in the workplace, which address issues on working conditions, wages, freedom of association, equality of treatment, access to health services and portability of pensions, and migrants working in an irregular situation and the informal economy.
  • How we can better engage principal stakeholders in the world of work, such as ministries of labour, and employers’ and workers’ organizations, and migrant workers.
“The ILO's mandate requires it to reach out to those who are most vulnerable, who face great insecurity and for whom the denial of social justice is most cruel. They are often hard to reach, and yet they are great in number… The ILO must also give priority to rural workers…, workers in the informal economy…and migrant workers.” – Director-General, Guy Ryder, ILO.

Thank You for your attention.