Migrant workers are essential to the functioning of today’s economies, and yet, populist and sectarian sentiment is spreading, with extremism and intolerance moving to centre-stage in many national political environments. Without migration, key services and even whole economies would break down, and societies and cultures would be severely diminished.
Migrant workers are not commodities to be bought and sold, as is the case today under the kafala system in the Gulf countries and systems in other places where unscrupulous recruitment agencies are able, without fear of the law, to trick them into the most severe exploitation. Powerful economic interests are now legitimising the economic trade in human beings through bilateral agreements between countries of origin and of destination which are silent on protecting migrants’ rights, and some are seeking to put migrant workers on the same level as exported goods through trade agreements.
This year the European Union, whose prosperity has been built on a workforce that includes millions of migrant workers and whose vibrant cultures reflect a myriad of traditions, has taken an enormous step backwards, with its decision to stop rescuing refugees at sea. At a time when the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis in 70 years, this callous disregard for the lives of people desperate to escape conflict, deprivation and exploitation will cost yet more lives. and is a stain on the reputation of the continent where democracy was born.
Next year is the 40th Anniversary of ILO Convention 143 which aims to stop the exploitation of migrant workers. This, and other key ILO Conventions including on freedom of association and collective bargaining, must be the cornerstone for global migration policy. Migrants need to be recognized as human beings with human rights, not as commodities for sale and profit.
Trade unions around the world are in the forefront of the fight for equal rights for migrant workers, and for migration policies that are rights based. built around compassion and solidarity. Migrants are integrated into trade union welcomed into our structures, and have risen to the highest positions in trade unions in many countries. Those politicians who seek short-term electoral advantage by demonizing migrants and taking away their human rights should learn from the trade union example, and recognize that cheap political points won by pandering to nationalism and xenophobia not only harm migrants and the communities in which they live, but also undermine the very functioning of crucial services and industries.
Our resolve to fight for equal rights for all, regardless of ethnicity or origin, remains as strong as ever. We will continue to bring it to bear in our campaigning for social justice, in our advocacy in international fora, our organizing for workers’ rights everywhere and within our own organisations and activities.