BWI: Vaccines for all migrant workers

“All migrant workers should have access to the safest and most effective vaccines against COVID-19.”

This was the statement issued by BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson in a discussion of COVID-19’s impact to migrant workers in the Middle East at the 13th Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) hosted by the United Arab Emirates on 18 January. 

The event, which was organised by the Swedish Embassy in Abu Dhabi, drew attention to the perspectives and experiences of state actors and international organizations representing both workers and employers, and explored various measures to respond to the global health crisis.  

“We call for vaccination for all workers regardless of immigration or employment status,” Yuson said. “Construction workers employed by sub-contractors and hospitality workers hired by manpower agencies are amongst the most vulnerable migrants, with many of them at risk of falling into undocumented or irregular status or the first one to be terminated,” he added.  

“They often have limited or no access to health care; no income or resources while waiting for their flight home; no access for any legal support for their claims; and if they complaint, they do not have the resources to stay at the country to wait for the decision of the labor court; nor the legal basis to stay because their visa have expired.  These are normally the workers that are left out,” Yuson explained. 

BWI also called for support to the recommendations issued by United Nations’ experts for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to immediately recognise and adopt safe and healthy working conditions as one of its fundamental principles and rights at work.  The global union said that the Migrant Workers Convention and ILO convention 143 must now be on high agenda in terms of ratification and national legislation.  

A new international mechanism or global social protection that would address the issue of unpaid wages was also raised by BWI. It said that non-payment of wages radically increased in the time of COVID-19.

Aside from Yuson, other speakers to the event were H.E. Nasser Thani al Hamli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratization, United Arab Emirates, H.E. Silvestre Bello, Secretary of Labour and Employment, Philippines, Dr. Ruba Jaradat, Regional Director International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Arab States (ROAS), Roberto Suárez Santos, the Secretary General of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and Elizabeth Tang, Secretary General of International Domestic Workers Federation.