The COVID-19 pandemic affected economies and peoples across the globe, regardless of nationality, economic status and social standing in society. It brought huge corporations and micro enterprises at a standstill, with lockdowns and quarantines affecting both employers and workers, and their respective families.
As the world now slowly begins to recover from the rampage of this deadly virus, it is relevant and vital that governments together with other stakeholders look back at the past three years in order to identify and address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers during a global health crisis.
Migrant workers who were sent home due to quarantine and other health restrictions, that caused establishments to close down, lost their jobs abruptly, without access to justice for unpaid wages and other forms of just compensation. Families were deprived of much needed remittances at a time when such financial aid could have saved the lives of loved ones infected by the virus. Vulnerable workers such as household-based employees were often the least protected of all, with no access to vital health and medical information and services.
Civil society groups involved in the 5th Thematic Agenda Technical Working Group on Pre-Departure Orientation and Empowerment held in Manila, Philippines thus recommend:
- That governments agree to work together on mechanisms that would enable migrant workers with pending money claims including back wages owed to them during the global pandemic to collect such claims and benefits from their foreign employers;
- That governments and stakeholders begin a planning process to set out a concrete policy framework against wage theft and other forms of exploitation for the protection of migrant workers’ rights during any health crisis; and
- That governments document and share best practices on how to care for migrant workers during a crisis situation to include innovative practices to address non-payment of wages and the use of technology to improve access to justice.
- Finally, we call on the State parties to the Colombo Process and its other multilateral partners to initiate a global conference aimed at empowerment and improving access to justice for all migrant workers in times of crisis.
The above statement was delivered by Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) at the 5th Meeting of the Thematic Area Working Group on Pre-Departure Orientation & Empowerment of the Colombo Process held from 14-16 March 2023.