ITUC warns of high risks facing migrant workers on International Migrant Workers Day

The number of migrant workers working in perilous conditions is growing each year warns, the International Trade Union Confederation as the UN marks International Migrants Day on 18 December.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said millions of migrant workers all around the world work outside of international labour law. They are denied the same rights as others workers.

From labourers, construction workers, domestic workers to administrators, migrant workers are in many industries in most countries of the world.

“Migrant workers are the most vulnerable workers, often working in dangerous industries for exploitative employers. Qatar is one of the world’s worst abusers of migrant workers, where 1.2 million guest workers are building the nation’s prosperity, working in a model of 21st century enslavement,” said Sharan Burrow.

96% of Qatar’s population is made of migrant workers. The country was awarded the FIFA World Cup in 2022, and billions of dollars of infrastructure projects will need migrant workers.

International laws addressing the needs of migrant workers must be implemented. ILO Convention 189 adopted a year ago guarantees the right of domestic workers to collectively defend their interests through trade unions and their access to a decent minimum wage just like any other worker.

“This year six countries – Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Paraguay – have ratified the convention, with more improving conditions. But the reality of the vast majority of domestic workers today is simply slavery,” said Sharan Burrow.

“Victor, a migrant worker with a marble company in Qatar, is sharing a room with 12 people in a squalid labour camp. His salary was cut from US$400 to US$200. But he has no right to change his job under the restrictive visa sponsorship system. His passport is held by the company, and he cannot leave the country without their permission. He is not protected by any laws,” said Sharan Burrow.

2012 has seen a rise in extreme-right parties across Europe promoting hatred against migrant workers. These parties range from Golden Dawn in Greece to Vlaams Belang in Belgium, as well as groups in Hungary and France.

The scale of abuses that migrant workers face around the world requires coordinated action from UN bodies, governments, business, migrant organisations and trade unions.

The ITUC is calling on Governments to
- respect international labour laws and ILO conventions on migrant workers;
- ratify the UN Convention on the rights of migrant workers;
- Challenge the current business approach to migration including at the next UN high level dialogue in September 2013.

“Migrants are not a commodity. Together we can stamp out abuses from recruiters demanding fees, employers not meeting their commitments on wages and flights home , and substandard accommodation so that migrant workers like Victor are treated with dignity,” said Sharan Burrow.

Join the campaign for migrant workers’ rights in Qatar at:


See photos of migrant worker conditions in labour camps in Doha, Qatar:

Watch the video of migrant workers from Nepal talking about conditions in Qatar: