On Sunday unions commemorated International Migrants Day and the millions of people who have left their homes in search of safety, peace or better living and working conditions. According to the International Labour Organization there are over 150 million migrants in the global workforce. Migrant workers are essential part of the global economy and without them, entire economies would collapse. Yet migrant workers are exploited, paid less than national workers and often deprived of their basic rights at work – such as the right to organize in a union, to bargain collectively or in some countries even to quit their job or return home without their employers’ permission.
Laws and regulations that denies migrant workers their basic rights create labour markets where national workers and migrant workers from different countries are forced to compete against each other, which leads to social dumping and wages dumping for all workers.
To challenge this development unions need to organize migrant workers and make their struggle part of their own. For the BWI and its affiliates organizing migrant workers on the principle of equal rights and equal pay for equal work is the only strategy to defend hard won rights and working standards.
This year a number of initiatives have been taken. Unions in countries of origin such as India, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines are educating workers about their rights before they go abroad and have set up networks to assist them in various countries of destination. in some countries they have set up support groups and for workers in countries of destination.
Unions can also contribute to raise awareness and promote acceptance. In Bahrain the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions have produced a video highlighting the exploitation of migrant workers in the country. and aware and putting migrants rights on the agenda is also an important task for unions.
In Porto Alegre and Brazil, the construction union STICC are organizing Senegalese and Haitian migrant workers; in addition, Brazilian and Haitian unions are cooperating to protect the rights of Haitian migrant workers. The construction union STICC last week signed an agreement with the Haitian union to strengthen their cooperation to organize migrant workers.
The BWI call on unions to continue to push for respect of migrant workers’ rights in their countries, and on governments to recognize that fundamental human and workers rights should apply to all regardless of migration status.
The BWI also call on all unions to fight xenophobia and racism, for welcoming refugees and migrants and to push for fair and safe migration policies.