The International Migration Review Forum Progress Declaration must strongly reaffirm the crucial role of ILO core labour standards

The Global Unions reiterate their commitment to pursue Global Compact on Migration (GCM) implementation strategies that promote social, racial, gender, economic and climate justice

We stand ready to work with states to advance a new social contract, and an inclusive recovery that puts people over profit. We therefore express our disappointment that the Progress Declaration on the implementation of the GCM fails to include a strong commitment to international labour standards that are fundamental to ensuring that migrant workers’ human and labour rights are respected. The Progress Declaration was adopted today by governments convened at the First UN International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) from 17-20 May.

Migrant workers make up the vast majority of international migrants. The GCM objective 6 to ‘facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions to ensure decent work’ has a clear reference to the ILO’s Decent Work agenda, which is set out in the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work which all Member States have an obligation to uphold by virtue of their membership in the International Labour Organization. As highlighted by several government representatives, these include the freedom of association, right to organize and collectively bargain, equal pay and non-discrimination in employment and the prohibition of forced labour and child labour. Yet this is conspicuously missing in the IMRF Progress Declaration.

Given that serious humanitarian concerns gave rise to the Compact, trade unions have demanded that the implementation process prioritize regularization schemes and increase humanitarian resettlement options and other rights-based channels — which allow migrants the freedom to move, settle, work, and fully participate in society — over expanding temporary or circular work programs. Not all regular pathways are fair or equitable. We commend the UN declaration recommendation to redouble efforts to promote better regular pathways, including the call for regularization of undocumented migrants and family unification, including reining racism and xenophobia and ensuring justice for victims. States must take steps to fundamentally restructure labor migration pathways, so they end the commodification of migrant workers and the systematic exploitation by recruiters and employers. Temporary labor migration programs must not be positioned as a false solution to origin country development or to humanitarian crises, climate displacement, or other forms of forced migration. Instead, labor migration pathways must allow workers to fully exercise the freedom of association, as well as the option for family unity, permanent residency and eventual citizenship if they desire it.

Furthermore, the Progress Declaration is a misnomer as it fails to recognise the positive role and contributions of trade unions in the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration at local, national, regional and international level. Over the last four years, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, trade unions in all continents and in many different ways have protected and advanced the rights of migrant workers, as the CGU shadow report to the IMRF illustrates. It is through trade unions’ consistent campaigns to promote the collective agency and organisation of migrant workers, through capacity-building on their rights as workers, and facilitating access to legal remedies for systematic violations such as wage theft that sustainable progress has been made.  Trade unions have also been key players in developing the UN Network on Migration Global Guidance on Bilateral Labour Migration, promoting fair and ethical recruitment, and supporting regularization of undocumented migrant workers.

In advocating for social justice, the trade union movement has consistently called upon governments to invest in human-centred development models and quality public services, including health care, universal social protection and inclusive quality education for all. Recovery plans need to be developed through social dialogue and aligned with the Paris Agreement, the UN SDGs and ILO labour standards. When governed within the rights-based normative framework, migration can contribute to sustainable development. However, migration in itself is not a strategy for development.

International labour standards are the fundamental human rights instruments that will protect migrant workers and enable trade unions to carry out their work to protect and advance the rights of migrant workers. Governments must safeguard the dignity and rights of migrant workers by ratifying and applying the ILO fundamental conventions and the ILO conventions on migrant workers (Conventions 97 and 143).  Trade unions remind governments of their obligation to human rights, which include freedom of association, right to organise collectively bargain and to commit to supporting the collective organisation of migrant workers.

To advance the implementation of the GCM, the labour movement urges Member States to take bold measures to uphold their obligations under the international labour standards to protect the right to freedom of association, right to organise and to collectively bargain for all workers regardless of their migration status; develop fair coherent permanent regular pathways and regularization schemes; and, engage in social dialogue with trade unions and workers’ organisations at local, national, regional and global level to further universal social protection and a new social contract for all workers.

[1] The Council of Global Unions (CGU) Migration Working Group comprises the following organisations: Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), Education International (EI), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Union (IUF), and Public Services International (PSI). It is supported by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF).