NGOs call for justice mechanism & protections for repatriated migrant workers during Covid-19 crisis
On 1 June 2020, a coalition of NGOs and unions launched an urgent appeal letter calling for an urgent justice mechanism for workers who have been impacted and repatriated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The economic fallout from the pandemic will include an estimated 195 million lost jobs, including an estimated 5 million in the Middle East, many of these held by migrant workers. 200,000 migrant workers have been repatriated to Asia from around the world as a result of Covid-19 job losses, a number which is expected to increase. There are serious concerns that without proper controls or procedures, workers may not receive with due wages, compensation and benefits, and that millions may be burdened with debt bondage as they struggle to pay of growing recruitment fees.
In light of these risks, the letter highlight the challenges posed by mass repatriation, including that employers may take advantage of such a situation to terminate and return workers who have not been paid due compensation, wages and benefits. They call for states to ensure that companies and employers are fulfilling their human rights obligations, warning that without proper oversight states may become "complicit" in a situation where workers do not earn their wages, have workplace grievances heard, nor receive justice.
The letter was launched by Migrant Forum in Asia, Lawyers Beyond Borders Network, Cross Regional Centre for Migrants and Refugees, South Asia Trade union Council, and Solidarity Center. It sets out four objectives of a transitional justice mechanism: that the mechanism is expedited, accessible affordable and efficient; that access to justice and compensation are a priority for repatriated workers; that safeguards are put in place to ensure workers can pursue cases after their return; and that states should require employers and businesses keep all employment records and provide copies to workers.
The letter was endorsed by Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Civil Society Action Committee, Equidem, Equidem Nepal, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Migrant-Rights.Org and Public Services International (PSI).
On 10th July, a second Urgent Appeal letter was launched laying out three priority action areas for governments and UN agencies:
- Establishing a specialised, quasi-legal International Claims Commission to expedite the just resolution of wage-theft and other outstanding claims from repatriated workers, and to provide equitable remedies. The appeal suggests the Commission could be administered jointly by ILO, IOM and other stakeholders, supported by regional and national sub-commissions.
- The establishment of a Compensation Fund at the global and national level to act as the executive branch of the International Claims Commission. Contributions could be drawn from governments, private contributors, businesses and philanthropic foundations.
- The reform of national justice systems which have largely failed migrant workers who have had access neither to justice nor to remedy. This includes steps such as setting up expedited labour courts, waiving court fees, establishing wage protection systems and worker hotlines, facilitating power of attorney procedures, allowing for remote testimony, and providing legal aid.
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Author: Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
We renew our call and we urge governments and UN agencies to take immediate action in three main areas:
[An International Claims Commission] specialized body should be set up to specifically ensure the expedited and just resolution of wage-theft and other outstanding claims of repatriated migrant workers.
A Compensation Fund set up at the global and national level should accompany the work of the Claims Commission and act as its executive branch, dispensing appropriate compensation in cases determined as wage theft.
States must rebuild migrant-centered justice systems at the national level, that recognize the vulnerabilities and barriers in accessing justice for migrant workers, and ensuring employer accountability in order to respond to the influx of cases exacerbated by the pandemic.
CHR Statement from Commissioner Gwendolyn Ll. Pimentel-Gana, on Access to Justice for Filipino Migrants
Author: Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
Ensure Justice for Migrant Workers Sent Home: Hasty Repatriation During Covid-19 Leading to Labor Violations
Author: Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Countries around the world that send and receive migrant workers should enact a justice mechanism through which hastily repatriated workers can seek redress for human rights and labor violations, Human Rights Watch said today in endorsing a joint letter by a coalition of migrants rights and labor organizations...
“Migrant workers worldwide are suffering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The least governments can do is make sure that these workers get the salaries and compensation they have earned before they were forced to leave their jobs.”
A Large Civil Society and Global Trade Unions Coalition Launch a Call for an Urgent Justice Mechanism for Repatriated Migrant Workers
Author: Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
On June the 1st, 2020, a large coalition of civil society organizations and global trade unions launched a call for an urgent justice mechanism for repatriated migrant workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic...
Many migrant workers have reconciled to the situation of wage theft in the form of unfair or unpaid wages... They have accepted it as their fate and refrained from complaining lest they lose their jobs, or, worst still, live under the fear of their status being made undocumented...
[Regional Coordinator for MFA, William] Gois said. If we are to ‘Build Back Better’, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the issue of wage theft that has been persistent across migration corridors for years.
Author: Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Lawyers Beyond Borders (LBB) Network, Cross Regional Centre for Migrants and Refugees (CCRM), South Asia Trade Union Council (SARTUC), and Solidarity Center (SC)
[MFA, LBB, CCRM, SARTUC & SC] call upon countries of origin and destination to urgently put in place a transitional justice mechanism with the following objectives:
- ...[to] address grievances, claims and labour disputes of repatriated workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic... be expedited, accessible, affordable, and efficient.
- ... be a priority to guarantee that all repatriated workers with legitimate claims are able to access justice and some kind of compensation.
- ... safeguards must be put in place to ensure that migrants are able to pursue their cases post return. Access to legal advice and support, facilitating power of attorney procedures, and easing requirements for in-person testimony and court appearance or appearance in front of a tribunal/grievance mechanism are paramount.
- States should require employers and businesses to keep all employment records, including payroll, employee lists, and hours worked and allow workers to take copies of their records with them.