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Global Unions Oral Statement on Migration - 50th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women – 2 March, 2006

The international trade union organisations welcome the fact that migration has been placed on the Agenda of the 50th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women as an emerging issue. The growing phenomenon of migration is of concern to global unions, represented here by Education International, Public Services International, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

The accelerating pace of migration is closely linked to globalization and the deregulation of markets, including labour markets. Growing unemployment, low wages and poverty constitute the main factors, compelling workers in the developing, sending countries to migrate in search of employment in industrialized countries. Prevailing neo-liberal economic and trade policies favour the removal of constraints to global labour mobility, on par with the free flow of capital. These policies are also being shaped within the GATS Mode IV regime of the WTO. To fill the labour shortage in the health sector, industrialised countries are actively recruiting experienced health workers from developing and transition countries, thus depriving already under-staffed and under-resourced health systems of much needed staff. Developing countries with higher income levels are also recruiting from lesser-developed countries, with similar “skills drain” effects. The education sector is also losing large numbers of skilled workers as they migrate to work abroad, thereby compromising the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in the areas of health and education. The migration of health workers out of Africa is reducing the effectiveness of the implementation of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS programmes in the region. It is estimated that about 600,000 more nurses are needed to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa but at the same time, 25,000 African health professionals migrate to developed countries every year. . Priority at global level should be to create an enabling environment through development-friendly trade policies, effective aid, debt cancellation, and adequate development financing mechanisms, so that national economies could thrive; and so that migration becomes a free choice of individuals, not an economic necessity arising from unemployment, low wages and poverty in the sending countries. Research conducted by Public Services International clearly reveals that the great majority of workers who migrate to work abroad would prefer to stay and contribute to the development of their home country, if only they could have decent working conditions. The negative factors fuelling economic migration are associated with a number of undesirable consequences, such as the brain drain, and the brain waste, where qualified personnel from developing countries are unable to find employment in their sectors or at their skills level in the receiving countries. Women working overseas tend to be concentrated in lower-skill level jobs, especially domestic work, labour-intensive factory production, and those reflecting traditional female roles and sex stereotypes, such as the entertainment industry. They find themselves in highly exploitative working conditions, devoid of the workers’ rights and social protections enjoyed by nationals of the host country, and younger women are at risk of being trafficked. While recognizing the rights of individuals to migrate, global unions consider that industrialized countries should not use migration as a means to avoid providing decent employment conditions aimed at retaining and attracting personnel. Further, migration should not be considered as a component of a long-term viable development or poverty reduction strategy for developing countries. The trade unions therefore wish to recommend that:

  • A gender-sensitive, rights-based approach to migration policy, including enforceable protection and rights for migrant workers, should be shaped by the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration, ILO Conventions 97 and 143 on migrant workers, and the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families which all governments should ratify; the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW), to provide adequate protections for women migrants;
  • At national level, Governments should commit to the implementation of the ILO ‘s decent work agenda, including the ratification and effective implementation of ILO Conventions 100 on equal remuneration and 111 on discrimination in employment as well as 156 (workers with family responsibilities); 175 (part-time work); 177 (home work) and 183 (maternity protection);
  • Trade unions at global and national level should be consulted on the formulation of migration policies.
  • Governments should agree that the issue of temporary movement of workers (Mode 4 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services) should be taken off the agenda of the World Trade Organization;
  • Governments should support the proposals made for the WHO General Assembly to adopt a code of practice on the international recruitment of health personnel.