Blog post written by Jean-Baptiste Farcy, PhD Candidate (UCLouvain, Belgium) and forms part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

The aim of Objective 6 is to ensure decent work for all migrants. This requires actions to protect them against all forms of exploitation and improve recruitment mechanisms and admission systems to guarantee that they are fair and ethical. The overall objective is to better protect migrants at work as well as maximise the socioeconomic impact of migrants in both their country of origin and destination, according to the triple-win formula.

Building on the actions foreseen in the text of the Global Compact, this article identifies indicators that help measure whether Objective 6 is being achieved in practice.

1. Equal pay for equal work (Migrant Workers Convention, art 25; ICESCR, art 7; CEDAW, art 11(1); International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, art 5)

Every worker is entitled to the same salary for the same position. The principle of equality and non-discrimination prohibits differences of treatment based on gender, race, nationality or immigration status. This means that labour migrants are equally entitled to paid holidays, compensation for overtime work and weekly rest without discrimination. The principle of equality must be enshrined in a legally binding text under domestic law. To ensure its effectiveness, employers should be subject to sanctions if they employ third-country nationals under less favourable conditions and effective complaint-mechanisms must be in place.

2. Prohibiting the confiscation of travel or identity documents (Migrant Workers Convention, art 21; ICCPR, art 12(2))

The confiscation of travel or identity documents has a significant impact on labour migrants’ freedom of movement and it constitutes an obstacle to leaving the employment relationship. As a consequence, the risk of abuse and exploitation highly increases. The prohibition on retention such documents applies to anyone, especially employers and recruiting agencies, other than a public official duly authorized by law.

In case of confiscation, third-country nationals may be suspected of staying irregularly on the territory and accordingly barred from leaving their country of residence. Yet under international human rights law, the right to leave a country includes the right to leave a country of which one is not a citizen. For the same reason, a practice that obliges workers to obtain an exit permit from their employer must be made illegal. Labour inspectors should monitor passport confiscation and employers or recruitment agencies must be held accountable.

3. Facilitate change of employer (Migrant Workers Convention, art. 52)

In order to prevent situations of abuse, migrant workers, including temporary migrants, should be allowed to freely choose their remunerated activity. This means that a residence permit should not be tied to a particular occupation at least after a period of time prescribed by law. The Migrant Workers Convention sets the time limit on tied employment of two years of lawful residence in the country of destination. As soon as migrant workers can change occupation, the less likely they are to accept unfair labour conditions. Also they do not risk losing their residence permit as a result of change of employer.

In case an employer does not respect labour and social security requirements, the employer only should be sanctioned under domestic law. If the labour contract is to be terminated according to the law, the migrant worker should not lose his work permit and his residence permit as a consequence of the employer’s misconduct.   

4. The establishment of firewalls

The firewalls principle requires a separation between immigration enforcement activities and public service provision in general. For the purpose of Objective 6, firewalls between labour inspection services and immigration enforcement authorities is of primary importance in order to combat labour exploitation and unfair working conditions. The establishment of firewalls is a powerful measure to encourage migrant workers to claim the protection of their fundamental rights. Complaint mechanisms are made more effective and, as a consequence, firewalls seek to ensure effective access to rights for those who have a precarious legal status.

Concluding Remarks

The final GCM calls for equality between migrant workers and nationals regarding working conditions and labour rights as well as greater enforcement of decent work norms by enhancing the abilities of labour inspectors. Beyond the ratification of relevant international norms, States need to be proactive in the fight against labour exploitation and unfair working conditions. A complaint-driven system can only be effective if other guarantees are in place, such as more flexible work permits and firewalls between immigration authorities and labour inspection services.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law Initiative. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.