The Situation of Migrant Workers Globally

There are more than 215 million migrants globally. Migrants who are active in the global economy, along with their family members, account for approximately 90% of this figure. Around the world and at every stage of the migration and employment process migrants experience gross violation of human rights. The following are just a few examples:

“Human rights abuses faced daily by an estimated two to three million migrant workers in Thailand include violent attacks and killings by government security forces and private individuals, extensive use of torture and ill-treatment in detention, sexual abuse, widespread labor rights abuses, and pervasive extortion. In every region…abuses of migrants were systematic and those filing grievances faced immediate, violent retaliation from a nexus of local police, officials and employers …” From Human Rights Watch

Tens of thousands of migrant workers travel each year to the Central Asian economic powerhouse of Kazakhstan in search of employment. Thousands of these migrant workers, often together with their children, find work in tobacco farming…some employers confiscated their passports, failed to provide them with written employment contracts, did not pay regular wages, arbitrarily deducted their earnings, and forced them to work excessively long hours. … In the worst cases, workers carried out forced labor, or were subject to situations analogous to forced labor, in which employers confiscated migrant workers’ passports and in some cases required them to perform other work without pay, in addition to tobacco farming. From Human Rights Watch “Hellish Work: Exploitation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan

“In their home country – Bangladesh or the Philippines or India – these workers are told they can earn a fortune in Dubai if they pay a large upfront fee. When they arrive, their passports are taken from them, and they are told their wages are a tenth of the rate they were promised. They end up working in extremely dangerous conditions for years, just to pay back their initial debt. They are ringed-off in filthy tent-cities outside Dubai, where they sleep in weeping heat, next to open sewage. They have no way to go home. … I met so many men in this position I stopped counting, just as the embassies were told to stop counting how many workers die in these conditions every year after they figured it topped more than 1,000 among the Indians alone.” Johann Hari A morally bankrupt dictatorship built by slave labour. The Independent 27 November 2009.

These systematic and gross human rights violations are only possible because of the vulnerable legal position of these workers. Undocumented migrants and women are at particular risk.

Undocumented migrants experience discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process. They often face prolonged detention or ill-treatment, and in some cases enslavement, rape or even murder. They are also especially susceptible to xenophobia and racism and exposed to unscrupulous employers, criminal traffickers and smugglers. Rendered particularly vulnerable by their irregular status, which is compounded by linguistic or cultural barriers, these men, women and children are often afraid or unable to seek protection and relief from the authorities of the country of their origin, transit or destination. (see Committee on Migrant Workers Day of General Discussion on Undocumented Migrant Workers)

Women constituted just under half of all international migrants in 2000. Women are entering the global labour market in greater numbers and increasingly migrate alone. They are often primary breadwinners for the families they leave behind. Migration can be an empowering experience for women. It can also have the opposite effect. Women who migrate for the purpose of marriage, domestic labour, or to work in the entertainment and sex industries are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and social isolation, as are those who are trafficked. Such problems are reinforced when migrant women do not know the language of the country they are living in or do not have access to supportive social networks. (see Global Commission on International Migration Report)

Join the campaign for Australian ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention.