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December 18: International Migrants Day

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On December 18, 1990, the United Nations' General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The Migrant Workers Convention entered into force in 2003, becoming a binding international treaty. It is considered one of the core human rights instruments. Yet to date it has been ratified by only 47 UN member states – none of them major receiving countries for migrants, and none of them members of the OECD, the club of wealthy countries.

The Migrant Workers Convention remains a well-kept secret, and for good reason. Countries which ratify the Convention undertake to defend the full range of human rights and freedoms which migrants enjoy under international law, including (Article 26) the right to freely join a trade union to defend their interests. Were the terms of the Convention respected, states would be required to act against the abuse and rampant exploitation which are the fate of most migrant workers.

The number of international migrants today is estimated at some 232 million, the huge majority of which left home in search of work. Global production – including the IUF sectors - rests on their backs. Agriculture, hotels and restaurants, and many branches of food processing would collapse without their contributions. Despite the existence of an international treaty affirming their rights, however, migrant workers are trafficked, discriminated against, constrained to work under hazardous and debilitating conditions, locked in isolated, unhealthy and dangerous living quarters, enslaved as domestic workers, jailed and periodically interned in mass detention centers before being forcibly repatriated.

In some of the richest countries of the world, agricultural workers, who are overwhelmingly migrants, remain entirely outside the legal framework of industrial relations and social security.

The treatment of migrant workers is a basic indicator of the application and enforcement of human rights standards by each and every state. For unions internationally, the level of union organization of the migrant workforce should be regarded as a key indicator of the labour movement's overall health, bargaining strength and capacity for mobilization.

In December 2000, the United Nations declared December 18 to be International Migrants Day. Unions should celebrate this day by demanding that their governments finally ratify the Convention, but they need not wait for ratification to take action. Unions in many parts of the world are increasingly active in organizing migrants, conscious that their own future depends in large measure on their success in organizing all workers, immigrant or native born, documented or undocumented.

On International Migrants Day 2014 unions internationally call on all governments to:

  • Recognise the contributions of migrants;
  • Ensure equal treatment of migrant and local workers, including equal working conditions and access to social protection ;
  • Provide decent work for all;
  • Ensure access to justice for migrants;
  • Take concrete action to counter racism and xenophobia.
  • Ratify and implement the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 97 and 143 and ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and all other human rights conventions; and
  • Support a leading role of the ILO in the development of a system of coherent, global governance of migration.


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