A “Rights-Based Approach” Needed to Meet the Needs of 105 Million Migrant Workers

March 31, 2010
Amid growing challenges due to the global economic crisis, a new International Labour Organization (ILO) study highlights the need to adopt a “rights-based approach” to provide a fair deal for the world’s 105 million migrant workers.

The new study, titled “International Labour Migration: A Rights-Based Approach," examines trends in international labor migration, its impacts on origin and destination countries and conditions of work experienced by migrant workers. The study also explores how standards can be used in the formulation and implementation of migration policies and practices.

The study brings out the positive contributions made by migrant workers to both their countries of employment and origin. However, it also highlights the decent work and protection deficits they still experience today, including low wages, non-payment of wages, unsafe working environments, a virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom of association and workers’ rights, discrimination and xenophobia.

“International migration is primarily a labor market, employment and decent work issue, and less a security and asylum seeker-refugee issue,” says Ibrahim Awad, chief of the ILO’s International Migration Branch. “The challenge is to govern migration in such a way that it can serve as a force for growth and prosperity in both origin and destination countries, while protecting and benefitting migrant workers themselves.”

“The current global financial and economic crisis highlights the role that the ILO should play in the international arena in looking at the integration of employment and financial policies,” Awad said.

The ILO study also says:
International migrants estimated at 214 million in 2010 represent only 3 percent of the global population;
Women make up almost 50 percent of international migrants;
Migrant workers (economically active among total migrant population) are about 105 million in 2010; and
Migrant workers – who migrate for employment – and their families account for about 90 percent of total international migrants.

The study concludes that national and international governance of labor migration should recognize that most migration is part of the search of decent work, and thus provide greater legal opportunities for labor mobility; that policies should be based on recognition of mutual benefits to both origin and destination countries; that protection of migrant rights is central to realizing development benefits of migration for all parties; and that comprehensive approaches to irregular migration are needed including addressing its root causes.

The study also calls for bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation between governments, social partners and other stakeholders concerned with migration to improve the governance of the migration process, ensure protection of migrant workers, and secure development benefits of labor migration for all parties.

The study draws upon recent international debates on the issue of labor migration, as reflected in the 2004 ILO Resolution on a fair deal for migrant workers in the global economy, the related ILO plan of action for migrant workers and the ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labor Migration adopted in 2006. The development of the ILO Multilateral Framework was a major step by the ILO in defining a rights-based approach to labor migration.

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