Workers' voices in migration governance: Trade unions examine Global Compact

More than 280 member-state representatives, partners and stakeholders met on 11 March in Geneva for the Regional Review of efforts to implement the guiding principles and 23 objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region. 

Organised by the United Nations Network on Migration and the UNECE, and co-chaired by the Republic of Moldova and the government of Spain, the findings from the event, the first of five around the world, will serve to inform the 2026 International Migration Review Forum.

Raising the voices of civil society organisations and trade unions, a report from the civil society stakeholders was presented by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), while one of the ministerial sessions was moderated by the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI). Trade unions argued that safe, orderly and regular migration is only possible if workers have an equal seat at the GCM negotiation table and are able to speak up for their fundamental labour rights. 

“A worker is a worker” was the trade union slogan during the GCM regional review. Trade unions highlighted various challenges migrant workers face in the UNECE region, and pushed for sound proposals. BWI highlighted significant challenges regarding the proper documentation of migrant workers in numerous EU member states, including the absence of formal employment contracts. This lack of documentation makes data collection on migrant workers exceedingly difficult, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability and placing them in dangerous situations. A poignant example of this was evident in the investigation following the tragic school building collapse in Antwerp, Belgium, where five migrant workers lost their lives and many others sustained serious injuries. It took over 24 hours to identify the personal details of these workers, underscoring the complexities surrounding their documentation.

Trade unions said that regardless of the pathway through which migrant workers enter Europe, they face acute vulnerabilities. Escaping dire poverty in their countries of origin, they often find themselves ensnared in similarly precarious circumstances in their destination countries. This vulnerability stems from exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agencies and abusive employers, as well as formal and informal barriers hindering their rights to freedom of association and access to justice mechanisms.

BWI's assessment concludes that Europe's response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis demonstrates that with political will and adequate resources, Europe possesses the capacity to welcome refugees in an organized, safe, and rights-centered manner. Therefore, it is feasible to extend this model to all individuals fleeing poverty, conflict, or seeking a better life in Europe.