Migration Affects Public Services More than We Think

Intervention by PSI’s Migration Programme Coordinator, Genevieve Gencianos, during the Global Social Protection Week on “Achieving SDG 1.3 and Universal Social Protection in the Context of the Future of Work”.

On 27 November at the ILO in Geneva, during the Global Social Protection Week on “Achieving SDG 1.3 and Universal Social Protection in the Context of the Future of Work”, a technical session was held on Extending social protection to migrant workers. The session discussed the challenges faced by migrant workers and their families in accessing social protection as well as the opportunities linked to the extension of social protection to migrant workers.

Intervention by PSI’s Migration Programme Coordinator, Genevieve Gencianos, one of the panel members:

Question to PSI: Objective 22 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration of 2018 encourages countries to establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits. How does migration affect public services and what is PSI’s position with respect to these mechanisms?

Migration phenomenon affects public services, particularly in the health and social care sectors.

A third of PSI’s members are in the health and social care sectors, representing around 10 million workers, therefore, the issue of international migration is a priority for us. Moreover, we highlight the fact that around 80% of health and social are workers are women. It is also worth noting that health care is one of the sectors with the highest risk of exposure to violence and harassment, thus social protection coverage for health care workers is paramount.

Health worker migration continues to grow: in recent years, there has been a 60% rise in the number of migrant doctors and nurses working in OECD countries, which is also driven by a global shortage of health workers.

Estimated shortage of health workers by 2030

18 million


4.2 million


6.9 million

Southeast Asia

According to the WHO, an estimated shortage of 18 million health workers is predicted by 2030. Notwithstanding that the biggest shortages will be in the developing country regions, i.e. Africa shortage of 4.2 million, Southeast Asia 6.9 million, international recruitment of health workers will continue to rise. However, there will be more pressure on developing countries who are already facing shortages, as health workers will be recruited to fill the gaps in rich countries, which are dealing with an ageing population and with not enough health staff to provide the health care needs.

Projections developed by WHO and the World Bank in 2016 point to the creation of approximately 40 million new health and social care jobs globally by 2030, underscoring that there is a continuing growth in health sector employment despite the economic crisis.

Along with the application of international labour standards and fair and ethical recruitment, social protection coverage and portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits, are core issues we advocate for. We need to ensure that migrant workers are entitled to the same social security rights as nationals in the country of destination; and they should be able to benefit from the portability of these social security entitlements in their countries of origin when they return.

Indeed, Objective 22 of the UN Global Compact on Migration outlines a number of mechanisms that Member States can undertake, which we support and would want to see realised. This includes:

  • Establishing or maintaining non-discriminatory national social protection systems, including social protection floors for nationals and migrants, in line with ILO Social Protection Floor Recommendation No. 202 (2012);

  • Conclusion of reciprocal bilateral, regional or multilateral social security agreements on the portability of social security entitlements and provisions for migrant workers at all skills levels, that include pensions, health care and other earned benefits; and

  • Integrating provisions on the portability of entitlements and earned benefits into national social security frameworks, with designated focal points in countries of origin, transit and destination in order to facilitate portability requests, addressing difficulties women and older persons can face in accessing social protection and establishing dedicated instruments, such as welfare funds in countries of origin that support migrant workers and their families.

These are excellent proposals from the UN GCM, however, we are yet to see this implemented by Member States, as we identify some major challenges. For instance, ensuring non-discrimination in social protection coverage between migrants and nationals remains a challenge in practice, particularly for migrant workers who are in precarious work, in informal work or those in an irregular migration status, and often women and young workers are then ones who are disproportionately affected being deprived from access to social protection. This is why the application of core labour standards (CLS) in the treatment of migrant workers, regardless of status, is very important; from clear work contracts, fair and ethical recruitment, regulation of recruitment agencies, right to join trade unions and collectively bargain for their rights. Portability of social protection must be viewed in totality with the full application of core labour standards and workers’ human and trade union rights.

Another challenge encompasses the legal and administrative aspects, including issues of reciprocity and verifiability, when entitlements are to be transferred from one country to another, requiring that countries of origin and destination must have the institutional and administrative capacity to implement this. Again, ILO Conventions on social security rights, such as ILO C118 Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, ILO C19 on Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation), ILO C102 on Social Security (Minimum Standards), ILO Social Protection Floor Recommendation 202 and the ILO Conventions on Migrant Workers C97 and C143. These international standards provide the legal framework and guidance in implementing these rights. Moreover, the conclusion of reciprocal bilateral, regional or multilateral social security agreements is an important requirement to operationalise these rights and standards.

Finally, the role of social partners in tripartism and social dialogue is paramount in working towards this goal of universal social protection and portability of social security for migrant workers.

Together with governments, social partners (workers and employers) must engage in social dialogue in improving migration governance, in particular, on labour migration, social protection and access to public services for migrants;

Social partners must be included in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of bilateral and multilateral labour migration agreements. PSI unions have concrete experience to share from our involvement in the implementation of the Germany-Philippines BLA on Nurses that was signed in March 2013. The agreement contains all the good elements in a BLA, including full social security coverage for the migrant nurses. To complement the BLA, Germany and the Philippines also signed in September 2014, a Social Security Agreement (The agreement entered into force with effect from 1 June 2018).

The Agreement allows individuals to aggregate pension insurance periods of coverage in Germany and the Philippines in order to qualify for the pension benefits.

Employees, who are eligible to receive retirement benefits from both Germany and the Philippines can request a transfer of the benefit derived from one country to be paid in the other country where the employee choose to retire and make a retirement benefits claim.

On the practical side, access to information by workers about their social security rights is very important, and this is where unions come in.

Union Outreach, Organising and Support Services – PSI unions have extensive experience in conducting outreach, organising and providing trade union support services to migrant workers. Through our Project on Decent Work and Social Protection for Migrant Workers in the Public Services, primarily in the health and social care sector, we developed the Migrant Pre-Decision and Information Kits, which are innovative ways to provide information to migrants. The Pre-Decision and Information Kit is a package of information for migrant workers, containing, among others, practical information ( e.g. job descriptions, recruitment conditions and ethical recruitment principles, workplace conditions, language, climate, cost-of-living situation, culture, employment rights and contacts of the trade unions). One of the challenges in social security is the lack of awareness by migrants of existing social security benefits and their rights to them. Thus, we included in our kits, information on social protection and social security and how migrant workers can claim their rights.

Along with the development of the Pre-decision and Information Kits are the “Migrant Desks” that PSI has begun to launch in pilot countries in Africa and Asia. The migrant desk is not only a physical desk but likewise a contact point within the union in order to carry out outreach, increase visibility and provide information and support services, including pathways to union organizing for migrants and potential migrant workers.

Finally, PSI supports its affiliates in establishing union to union cooperation in origin and destination countries in organising, providing information and assisting and representing migrant workers in cases of violations of their rights.