BWI and IOE statement on strengthening migrant workers' social protection systems

On International Migrants Day, IOE and BWI publish a joint statement on the essential role of migrant workers during the pandemic and the need to provide greater social protection to them in these uncertain times. 

Geneva, 18 December 2020

This is the month that many in the world started to believe that hope is real and help near in the battle against the Covid virus. This is the month that one of the much-anticipated vaccines - Pfizer-BioNTech - finally came.  

This vaccine comes from migrants: from a partnership co-led by a husband-wife team of scientists—both are from migrant families, and a pharmaceutical multinational founded by migrants to the United States 171 years ago… whose current CEO is from a migrant family.

Many of the doctors and nurses administering the vaccine are migrants. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that one out of every four doctors and nearly one out five nurses in industrialised countries today were born in another country. Many of the employers and workers helping to get the vaccines and other health supplies to the people that need them are also migrants or descendants of migrants. 

All over the world, migrants are providing home health care - looking after children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Millions more work as domestic workers and drivers, in forests and farms, as well as in food processing, grocery stores, retail shops, restaurants and hotels, public transportation and driving taxis, in construction, engineering and manufacturing, and in digital and information technologies.  

The health and safety of workers in construction and across all industries are important and even more so during the pandemic. During this pandemic, the personal risk to migrant workers has been much higher with studies showing that Covid-19 has been harsher and deadlier on migrants performing so many of these services. This is related to existing challenges many migrant workers are facing, including access to food, healthcare, sanitation, and housing.

Add to this, many migrant workers are confronted with dire challenges. They are often stranded in foreign countries without access to services and support. In these circumstances, trade unions and employers’ organisations support access to remedy for those that have suffered wage abuse.  

The pandemic has also shed a bright light on the importance of “key” workers, whether native-born or migrant. They are essential to their neighbors, essential to their communities and essential in responding to the pandemic.

Also essential is a relevant and meaningful social dialogue at appropriate levels to ensure that fundamental principles and rights at works are fully respected in the response to the crisis. Decent jobs and decent working conditions for all, migrants and local workers, will be important to overcome the crisis. To this end, trade unions and employers’ organisations call on governments to effectively implement the International Labour Organisation’s labour standards in particular the Fundamental Principles and Rights at work and related principles and labour rights and ensure no discrimination, including wage discrimination, to make certain no one is left behind. 

As hopes—and health—continue to move from care to cure, economies will need to also move from crisis to recovery. What cures a sick economy? A healthy private and public sector with a level playing field and the creation of decent jobs for workers, better portability of social security and the maintenance of sustained employment. Also needed is a strong commit by business to respect human and labour rights, regardless of whether they are locals or migrants. 

In responding to the call for Building Back Better agenda, trade unions and employers’ organisations support setting-up strong and adequately funded health systems that include the provision of free Covid-19 testing with health care services and vaccines for all.   

December 18 is International Migrants Day, the day the world honours migrants. IOE and BWI are committed to raising awareness to ensure that perceptions and narratives on migrants more accurately reflect the reality. 

When you get your COVID vaccine—whichever vaccine, you might want to thank a migrant.  Without doubt, a migrant was an essential part of getting it to you.  And, together with you yourself, and workers and business everywhere: an essential part of the economic recovery that’s coming too.