Global Compact on Migration: Recognition of Labour Standards and Unions

The ITUC has welcomed the recognition of the important role of trade unions in ensuring decent work for migrant workers in the Global Compact on Migration, but denounced the potential for exclusion of millions of workers from the protection of ILO standards.

The Compact, negotiated between governments with inputs from across civil society, business and academia, is scheduled to be presented to a high-level intergovernmental meeting in Morocco in December this year.

“The result of the negotiations shatters the hopes and aspirations of millions of migrant workers who don’t have employment contracts, by failing to guarantee them the rights enshrined in the core Conventions of the ILO. This will entrench two-tier labour markets where an underclass of workers who happen to be migrants are left without guarantees of freedom of association, collective bargaining and other vital protections. That means established wages and working conditions can be undercut, fueling xenophobia and further weakening the position of some of the world’s most vulnerable workers,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

With European Union governments playing a prominent part in the discussions, ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini said “European trade unions will press the European Union to improve the Global Compact and to ensure it helps to deliver decent work and equal treatment and rights for all migrants regardless of their status”.

While trade unions have welcomed the recognition of their role, and the efforts to address a comprehensive agenda on migration, the outcome of the negotiations has fallen short. With the Compact setting lower standards than existing international law, there is now a serious risk of a two-tier migration policy framework existing alongside two-tier labour markets.

Besides limiting the application of ILO standards, a list of basic services that must be available to migrants which was developed during the negotiations, was dropped, and the principle of non-criminalisation of irregular status of migrants was weakened, leaving them exposed to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

“The Global Compact outcome means that migrant workers could be denied access to important public services as well as to labour-law enforcement mechanisms. The Compact falls below multilateral commitments that governments are bound to respect under international law, and it is hard to see how the UN General Assembly in December could accept this. Policy is being driven by the ascent of fringe racist elements into mainstream politics rather than humanitarian decency, sound labour and industry policy and recognition of the fact that migrant labour has been vital in building most of the world’s most successful economies. We thank those governments that resisted the race to the bottom in these negotiations and pushed for a rights-based approach. For the union movement, migrants and refugees are welcome in our workplaces, our communities and in social and cultural life. We will continue to organise and fight for their rights even if governments continue to pander to populists and xenophobes,” said Burrow.

To read the Global Unions Statement.