Protecting migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Anna Triponel

August 10, 2020

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) released guidance for employers on protecting vulnerable migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guidance on Protection for Migrant Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic was adapted from existing resources developed by IOM on respecting migrants workers’ rights during the pandemic.

The guidance focuses on migrant workers for several reasons:

  • They are vital to many sectors, “including those ensuring essential services during the pandemic and industries hit especially hard by the crisis.”
  • At the same time, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses because of their more precarious legal status, a lack of some social and labour protections offered to citizens, their distance from family support systems and language and/or cultural barriers.
  • Further, because many migrant workers send remittances home, any disruption to their wages or employment can cause a ripple effect that adversely impacts family members in workers’ home countries.

The guidance establishes three general principles that all employers must adhere to, regardless of their place in the value chain:

Source: IOM and ICC, Guidance on Protection for Migrant Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic (August 2020)

Below are the key recommendations for employers to ensure that they are respecting the rights of migrant workers in their own operations and supply chains.

Physical and mental health

  • “Implement health-related measures and ensure access to health care” by adhering to public health requirements and communicating information to workers; implementing measures to ensure social distancing and/or providing flexible work options; providing translators to support workers when visiting hospitals or sharing public health information
  • “Mitigate stress and anxiety related to COVID-19” by referring workers to mental health care providers and other support organisations such as consular officials and civil society organisations; providing internet access and other means of communication for migrant workers to communicate with family members back home
  • “Provide access to social protection, including social security” by facilitating access to any government programmes available to migrant workers; regularising worker status; providing paid sick leave and leave to care for ill family members
  • Communicate with migrant workers through multiple channels (e.g. posters, leaflets, informational sessions) and in appropriate languages in order to ensure that all migrant workers understand the steps they need to take to protect themselves from COVID-19 in the workplace and at home

Living and working conditions

  • “Adapt the living conditions of migrant workers” to ensure that they are not put at risk of contracting the virus through close proximity with other workers, including by ensuring that cleaning and hygiene measures are being implemented in employer-owned housing and that workers have access to essential services like potable water, electricity and food; work with third-party landlords to ensure that migrant workers who live in offsite accommodations are not evicted; consider providing temporary financial support to cover living costs of workers in case of workplace shutdowns
  • “Combat xenophobia and social exclusion during the crisis” by conducting training and awareness-raising for all employees and providing access to a grievance mechanism where migrant workers can report discrimination claims
  • “Safeguard the rights of migrant workers in times of crisis” by continuing to uphold international labour standards for wages, overtime, redundancies and layoffs; take measures to balance public health considerations with the right of migrant workers to move freely and communicate clearly with workers about this

Economic support

  • “Ensure payment of wages and economic well-being of migrant workers” by continuing to support migrant workers financially throughout the pandemic, to the extent possible; ensuring that any recruitment-related fees and costs are reimbursed
  • “Assist with the return of migrant workers during the pandemic” in case they are required to return to their country of origin but lack the means to do so; employers can pay for migrant workers to return home or “[e]xplore with government, recruiters, and other relevant institutions, where other options are not available, the possibility of unlocking funds (e.g. bonds placed as guarantees during migrant worker recruitment, migrant welfare funds, etc.)”

Ethical recruitment

  • “Ensure ethical recruitment in periods of crisis” by holding remote interviews to reduce travel, ensuring “additional costs related to health checks, official documentation, and due diligence are not borne by migrant workers,” and putting in place plans to ensure ethical recruitment continues in case of pressures to return to “business as usual”

Supply chain commitment

  • “Enhance migrant protection through compliance monitoring and supply chain due diligence” including by putting in place temporary policy measures for suppliers in order to protect migrant and other supply chains workers, and conducting additional monitoring and due diligence of supply chains to ensure that migrant workers’ rights are protected in the context of COVID-19

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