The Global Deal

International Migrants Day: Migrant workers at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic


18 December 2020 - This year’s International Migrants Day takes place against the background of a global health emergency and an economic and social crisis of a magnitude unseen in generations. Exposing pre-existing labour market weaknesses, in particular a lack of decent work, COVID-19 has severely affected migrants in particular. Many migrants were the first to lose their jobs as they hold temporary contracts in sectors shutting down activity such as hotels, restaurant, tourism and catering. Migrants and their families are also disproportionately represented in the incidences of death and health problems related to particular vulnerabilities such as poor housing conditions. Meanwhile, many migrants are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic with foreign-born workers highly represented in essential activities from food retail and picking fruit to health care. In health care in particular, OECD statistics report that migrant workers account for 16% of nurses.


COVID-19 presents an opportunity to do better and to ensure that high inequalities and the lack of quality jobs are addressed, as jobs and economies recover. Securing decent work for all workers, whether they are native or foreign-born workers, essential or non-essential workers is a key priority as reflected by the Sustainable Development Goals and social dialogue provides a good way to do so, as the experience of Global Deal partners testifies.


The International Transport Workers' Federation has been working to highlight the dire situation currently faced by a major part of the maritime workforce. COVID-19 quarantine measures are blocking the process of crew change, resulting in many seafarers being trapped on board their vessels for long periods and suffering from unmet medical conditions.[1] In response to the situation, a UN General Assembly resolution was adopted in November stating that participation in the global economy and its supply chains implies recognising seafarers as “key” workers. In addition, the ILO adopted a resolution in December, which specifies the meaning of “key worker status” and includes the provision of shore leave for seafarers to access medical care. The ILO resolution also calls on the world’s companies to carry out due diligence in their supply chains and ensure crew are changed wherever they are over their initial contracts.


Looking beyond the effects of the pandemic, another example of how social dialogue can help to protect migrant workers is the Global Framework Agreement (GFA) that was co-signed in 2018 by the construction company VINCI and the Qatari shareholding company QDVC, along with the global union federation Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI). This ensures decent work, health and safety, and good welfare standards for all workers employed by QDVC in Qatar, including migrant workers. As part of this GFA, QDVC has committed to adhere to principles of ethical recruitment, in particular when hiring migrant workers. The process of recruitment is to be free of charge and workers are to be informed of their employment and work conditions in a language they understand. According to the Agreement, workers’ passports and identity documents are never to be retained before deployment in Qatar, and workers should be able to issue complaints without fear of any form of retaliation. VINCI’s experience is that ethical recruitment is achievable at a price that is limited to 1% of the overall cost of the project, while in return yielding benefits such as longer retention rates, stronger loyalty and higher job satisfaction for all workers.


These measures adopted by Global Deal partners show how social dialogue is effective in a range of scenarios to help secure rights for migrant workers across the globe.


[1] ‘The heat is on’: Landmark UN, ILO decisions put pressure on governments over crew change; International Transport Federation press release, 8 Dec 2020



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