World Refugee Day: Refugees have a right to decent work

On World Refugee Day, 20 June 2023, trade unions around the world demand that states undertake their responsibility to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution, conflict and the impacts of climate change.

“Refugees do not only have the right to work, but they also have rights at work, including safe and healthy working conditions, equal pay for work of equal value and social protection. As trade unions, we stand with refugees and reiterate that our doors are open to them,” said ITUC Acting Secretary General Luc Triangle.

Persecution, conflict and war in every region of the world means that millions of people are seeking refuge outside of their home country, with tens of millions more displaced internally. Global warming is creating millions of climate refugees as it costs lives and livelihoods.

In 2022, the number of refugees and forcibly displaced people surpassed 100 million:

  • The vast majority of people seek refuge in less wealthy countries. Low- and middle-income countries host 74% of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection.
  • The least developed countries provide asylum to 22% of the global total.
  • States have committed to ease the pressure on host countries under the Global Compact for Refugees, but resettlement numbers remain negligible and the budget of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is chronically underfunded.

See our blog: The impact of forced displacement on labour market outcomes in Jordan.

Decent work

In destination countries, refugees and displaced people face enormous barriers to accessing decent work opportunities. In some places, refugees cannot access labour markets because of legal restrictions or costly administrative procedures.

In other countries without such restrictions, refugees face other challenges linked to language barriers, a lack of skills recognition, an absence of training opportunities and insufficient or absent public services for job-matching.

Refugees are put at further risk as populist right-wing political forces, on the rise across the world, fuel xenophobia and racism.

These barriers to formal work make refugees more vulnerable to abuse and push them into informality. Refugees overwhelmingly work in the informal sector, where they are exposed to severe decent work deficits, including a lack of social protection.

As part of the demand for a New Social Contract:

  • We call for 575 million new jobs and the formalisation of at least one billion informal jobs by 2030. These jobs must be open to refugees.
  • Governments must remove all legal, administrative and practical barriers that are preventing refugees from working in dignity. This includes any barriers to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which are crucial for refugees to be able to stand up against exploitation and to demand their rights.
  • Countries with small numbers of refugees must support those countries hosting the majority by drastically increasing the number of resettlement places and ensuring decent work.