Steering Committee for the Global Campaign for the ratification of the Convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and their families

Statement by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

by Anna Biondi, Assistant Director ICFTU Geneva




Geneva, 3 December 2002 - (The ICFTU is the largest International Trade Union Organization, comprizing 158 million members in 150 countries, more than half in developing countries).

Taking the floor at the end of many interesting interventions, I will try not to repeat concepts that have already been adequately covered, but go a little deeper on some policy aspects. The reason why we are here today is not for "preaching to the converted", but for the unique opportunity that the IOM Council gives us to discuss the migration issues with governments representatives. It is absolutely clear in our mind that operazionalizing through national legislation and ratification of international standards the right-based approach mentioned by Taran (ILO) in his introduction as an "International Legal Charter" comprizing the UN and the ILO Conventions is the most effective way to provide equality and justice for migrant workers and their families, and for society at large. I have also particularly appreciated Gabriela Rodriguez's reference to the centrality of the gender dimension when dealing with migration, an issue too often relegated in the past as secondary (this is why it is crucial to introduce gender as a cross-cutting element of our analysis).

I agree with the reading done by Ambassador Albin about the figures of migration. I recall a 1994 ILO publication with a figure at the time of 70 million migrant workers; in 2002 the ILO speaks of 120 million migrants out of a 170 million population living abroad. It is clear that the phenomenon is going to stay with us and increase, even if the reply of most states is purely to try to seal borders. In this regard, it is quite ironic that - when few days ago I took part in a meeting with the WTO Director General, Mr. Supachai - there was a full call for opening the frontiers to goods, services, etc, while the same governments are busy locking the borders when we talk about people (unless holding high computer skills)!

The reality is dramatic. Let me quote from yesterday leading Italian paper: "The slave-masters of the Mediterranean are quick in changing routes and strategies. In the last two years their operative bases have been quickly changed from Gibraltar to Alexandria in Egypt to further away. In the year 2000 they sailed from the Turkish shores towards Calabria, after few months Malta was the centre of all trafficking towards Sicily. In the year 2001 and 2002 they chose Tunisia and a desert next to the Libyan border" (La Repubblica, 02 Dec 2002).

Our common moral imperative indicates in two avenues - development for sending countries in order to stop the drain and equality and fair treatment in receiving countries - the only way to dignity and human rights. Issues such as globalization, "brain drain", 3-D jobs (dirty, dangerous, difficult) cannot be tackled just with generic statements, but with practical ways forward. I will then briefly discuss the two main avenues that the union movement pursues in this regard: organizing and legal procedures.

Importance of organizing.
Organizing is the way trade unions exist; organizing gives the collective strength so much needed especially by those that are denied equality of treatment, migrant workers being among the worst affected. This is why the ICFTU always indicate in C. 87 and 98 of the ILO (Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining) the core rights that help establishing all the others. Trade Unions have been portrayed in the past as closed and conservative bodies, not migrant-friendly: nothing more different from what's today reality. I can share very interesting examples of practical and very important work: from the British TUC to COSATU, from the Italian Unions to AFL-CIO, from the Spanish to Nordic Unions, there are wonderful examples of integration and use of collective bargaining for advancing migrant workers' rights and help integration and equal treatment.

Importance of legal procedures.
States have to establish a legal framework as an enabling environment through which give practical implementation to the broad consensus on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN Convention on Migrant Workers and their families is a practical tool that enables States first to recognize that migrants' rights are human rights and to prevent and eliminate exploitation and discrimination. As Unions, we very often naturally quote ILO Conventions 97 and 143 on migrants as a natural link to the UN Convention. Today I would like also to emphasise the established link between the UN Convention on Migrants and the core ILO Convention 111 on non discrimination as well as Convention 29 on forced labour. The ILO has been very successful in promoting the ratification of these conventions through the adoption of the 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and a strong campaign in favour of Fundamental Rights at Work. Once so many governments have responded positively to this call, it is our duty to show the same governments the Convention on Migrants' Rights is a natural extension of these same commitments.

I want also to recall the solemn engagement taken by Governments to combat Discrimination and Racism at last year's WCAR in Durban. I want to publicly commend Ambassador Albin and the Mexican Mission in Geneva for the help they provided to our Campaign in that context: it is thanks to their effort and some other committed Governments that listened to our tireless efforts that we were able to win so many paragraphs dedicated to migrants in the final text. Now it's time to implement those provisions.

In the end, let me go back to the UN Convention. We know very well that - even if we reach the 20th ratification - the journey is only at the beginning: the hard way towards implementation has then to come. But those of us who have been part of the Steering Committee of the Global Campaign for the Ratification of the Convention from the beginning are particularly proud to be so close to the entry into force of this instrument. I remember when we would make interventions at the Commission of Human Rights or the Sub-Commission encouraging Governments to adopt the Migrants Convention and we would quote one-digit number of ratifications; then we were encouraged quoting double-digit numbers: now we are so proud being so close to its entry into force!

Thanks to those who have worked and are still working hard for this result: the labour movement will be surely celebrating and renewing its efforts for equality, dignity, non discrimination and justice for migrants and for all!