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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009










Special Advisor for Socio-Religious Affairs and Special Partnerships

International Labour Office – ILO


Eminences, Excellencies, Fathers, Sisters, dear Friends… 

Allow me to first express the ILO’s and its Director General Mr Juan Somavia’s personal gratitude to the Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò and the Archbishop Agostino Marchetto for their kind invitation. Unfortunately, the Director General could not be here today as the Governing Body of the Organisation is currently meeting in Geneva.

Almost since its foundation, the ILO and the Catholic Church have been in constant dialogue. Migrants and migration have been an important part of the conversation. In the early days of the Organisation, the ILO’s tripartite constituents - governments, employers and workers organisations - felt that labour standards needed to address the rights of migrants. Two major conventions were adopted and subsequently ratified by a number of countries, the Convention on Migration for Employment, revised in 1949, and the ILO Convention on Migrant Workers in 1975.  They are still of the upmost importance to the Organization. The ILO also contributed to the drafting of the 1990 International Convention on rights of migrant workers. Today, 82 States have ratified at least one of these three instruments – a high proportion of the 130 countries for which migration is an important feature. Finally, the Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration that includes principles and guidelines can help elaborate country policies for labour migrations. 

The context of our meeting

As we speak today, our world is in an important financial and economic crisis that is also proving to be a major employment crisis. It is impossible to address migration issues outside of this context.

Since before the crisis struck, the ILO has contributed to raising awareness of threats to employment and social protection. As early as August 2008, Mr Somavia predicted that at least 20 million jobs would be lost as a result of the crisis before the end of the year. This early figure was later revised upward to more than 50 million as of June 2009.

Last November, the ILO Governing Body mandated the Organisation to propose coherent policy responses. Protectionism and unilateralism threatened to worsen what was already becoming a major economic downturn.

This lead to the convening of a World Employment Summit held during the International Labour Conference and the adoption of a Global Jobs Pact - a Decent Work response to the crisis. It consists of a set of successful policy options experienced in many regions throughout the world. They were proposed to governments and social partners to help develop a convergent crisis response.

The Global Jobs Pact revisits the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda.

First, we cannot restore hope and trust in our societies if we do not restore jobs. There cannot be decent jobs without sustainable enterprises. Solidarity also needs to be expanded.

Second, social protection is to be made a priority. The ILO invites governments to build a social protection floor that would allow access to basic health and help take children out of poverty.

Third, we are very conscious of the grave danger posed to rights in the workplace. Respect for fundamental principles and rights at work is critical for human dignity and for societies’ recovery.

Fourth, in these times of potential social tensions, dialogue strengthens respect and constitutes a strong basis for building the commitment of employers, workers and social movements to join action with governments. 

Migrants in the context of the crisis

Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to economic and labour market turbulences. Indeed, they often do not enjoy the same rights and protection as nationals of destination countries. Five observations can be drawn from the analysis of data available so far:

The impact of the global crisis on migrant workers is differentiated. It is not the same in all countries or in every sector of the economy. In the United States, Ireland and Spain, migrant workers were particularly affected in construction. While in Malaysia, Japan and the Republic of Korea, they were affected in manufacturing. In contrast, a number of sectors, for instance health- care, domestic service and education in some countries have witnessed growth. This is particularly the case in the United States and Ireland.

To date, no mass returns of migrant workers have been observed but, for some countries of origins, new outflows have slowed down. For example, the net outflow of Mexicans dropped by over 50 per cent between August 2007 and August 2008. Meanwhile, voluntary return programmes implemented by destination countries have fallen far short of the targeted numbers. Migrant workers often choose to remain despite deteriorating economic conditions in order to preserve their social security benefits. The adverse economic and employment situation in the origin country also discourages them from returning.

Remittance flows have decreased more than the World Bank expected at the beginning of the crisis. In March 2009, the decrease was estimated to reach eight per cent. This has been true in Latin America and the Caribbean - the region receiving the highest level of remittance. This has also been true for South and Southeast Asia.  However, the situation is more worrying among countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. And the growth of remittances in Sub-Saharan Africa will probably stop or even be negative. The slowest decline is likely to be in the Middle East and North Africa, where the only positive growth may be in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

The crisis also increases the likelihood of precarious and irregular employment. Migrants are disproportionately affected by layoffs when employment is reduced. They also suffer from harsher conditions where they remain working.

Perceived competition for scarce jobs, housing and public services  increases xenophobic and discriminatory reactions of nationals against migrant workers in a number of countries. 

Possible policy responses

Policy measures are necessary to protect migrants and the interest of countries at both ends of the migration process. A working paper published by ILO has pointed out the following:

New admission and voluntary return policies in destination countries need to consider labour demand in specific sectors and occupations. Ignoring sectoral and occupational demand may lead to stimulating irregular migration.

Economic stimulus packages put in place by destination countries should equally, and without discrimination, benefit regular migrant workers.

Countries should strengthen laws on non-discrimination and protection of migrant workers and their families.

Hostility towards migrant workers and xenophobia undermine social cohesion and stability. Destination countries, their governments, social partners and civil society organisations should discourage anti-foreign anti-migrant speech and actions and prosecute to the fullest extent of law any manifestations of violence or abuse against foreigners and other minorities.

In times of crisis, the application of labour laws to migrant workers should be reinforced so as to ensure that legal conditions of work are respected and the rights to the fruits of labour already undertaken are protected. Special attention should be given to labour inspection so that labour standards are fully implemented for all migrant workers.

Migrant workers’ civil, economic, social and cultural rights provided for in instruments of international human rights law should be strictly observed.

Countries of origin should put in place effective policies for the reintegration of returning migrant workers; enhanced and expanded employment policies can assist in their reintegration. 

In conclusion, allow me to reiterate that the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration sets forth principles and provides guidelines that can be of great value in formulating policies, especially during this time of crisis. Our Migrant Branch and our External Relations Bureau remain at your disposal should you need further information.