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17 Oct 2023

A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants calls for greater protection of migrant workers and discusses key areas of concern

Many migrant workers face unequal conditions of work when compared with nationals, including pay inequity and unsafe working conditions characterized by a lack of occupational health and safety training and personal protective equipment, and in some cases exclusion from labour law and employment standards.
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

In October 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reported that the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said in his latest report that migrant labour and human rights are among the defining issues of our era.

The report begins by outlining the activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur, before moving on to discuss the protection of migrant rights.

The report notes the huge contributions migrant workers make to the global economy, including through remittances, but states these contributions will be undermined if migrants are working in precarious and unsafe conditions. The report also emphasises concerns around the growing flexibilization, contractualization and digitalization of labour leading to unsafe work, exploitation, insecurity, violence and abuse.

The report outlines a number of concerning issues, including:

  • Differential access to decent work across multiple indicators, such as pay, hours, and collective bargaining rights.
  • Discrimination against migrant workers at work and in their daily lives, including the policing and surveillance of racialized communities.
  • Discrimination against low-wage migrant workers through temporary labour programmes.
  • Adverse gendered impacts, including a heightened risk of gender-based violence, exploitation and trafficking for women migrant workers who generally work in underregulated and informal sectors.
  • LGBTIQ+ migrants facing heightened risks of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Migrant children facing a higher risk of both labour exploitation and trafficking. Migrant children work for less pay and face higher death rates at work.
  • Challenges with recruitment intermediaries. The report highlights how the unregulated nature of the industry means that exploitation persists, such as through the charging of unauthorised fees, passport retention, violence, intimidation, debt bondage, and wage retention, among other issues.
  • A lack of adequate and safe housing, often used to justify camp-like conditions.
  • A lack of access to social protection systems and health services, rendering migrants vulnerable to economic shocks, unemployment, illness, injuries, and poverty.
  • A lack of access to justice and accountability measures, particularly for women migrant workers who are concentrated in informal and unregulated work. Retaliation by employers is a major concern.

The report also sheds light on irregular migration pathways. It emphasises how workers can become undocumented, including through unethical recruitment practices and employer misconduct, such as visa trading and contract substitution, which exposes migrants to heightened vulnerability.