Can trade unions help the governance of global migration?


I am on my way to the Sabir festival in Sicily, an annual event where we have open discussions among unions and civil society organisations from across the Mediterranean about migration policies in the region.

Sabir, an old Arabic word, was a language spoken around the Mediterranean from the 11th to the 19th century, a common and shared idiom that facilitated trade and communications, and united the peoples.

Given the divisions and the conflicts we are going through everywhere in the world, when it comes to migration, I cannot help but think about the urgent need to find some common and shared governance of this phenomenon. And I am wondering: how can the trade unions help with that?

What I know for sure is that our organisations are faced with many challenges connected to the unprecedented movement of people around the globe. The United Nations estimate that there are over 232 million migrants in the world and more than 150 million are working women and men. In most cases migration is caused by social injustice and inequality, conflicts and violation of human rights, the impact of global warming.

However, governments of both sending, transit and receiving countries have given poor responses to this phenomenon. Too many politicians claim for more walls and closed borders without even trying to discuss and find common strategies.

Almost everywhere in the world the political scenario is characterised by new waves of nationalism, xenophobia and racism, fuelled by extreme right political movements. I see this is happening in my country, Italy, which is at the crossroads between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, but it happens also in Asia, in the Americas and the Pacific region.

If governments respond only seizing borders even further, preventing regular migration and encouraging nationalism, the answer of the international community has been weak so far.

The Global Compact for a safe, orderly and regular Migration which was finalised by the UN last July is the first attempt to address the issue of governance, to forge a multilateral framework of cooperation and ensure that international human and labour rights are guaranteed to migrants. But which migrants are to be protected and which not according to this framework?

We regret that the agreement marks a clear distinction between regular and irregular migrants, foreseeing different treatment and access to services, which means also social protections, human and labour rights provisions.

So the Global Compact on Migration has adopted an approach which risks to contradict the very essence of social protection, as we know it from international human rights treaties and labour standards.

We must say it clearly: this is a step backward from decades of well-established ILO doctrine and human rights protections for all migrants, regardless their legal status.

I believe that the ILO should play a key role in ensuring that migration policies remain firmly rooted in the principles of decent work and core labour standards for all migrants.

Promotion of human rights for all and sustainable development should be at the core of our action as stated in the UN 2030 Agenda.

As trade unions, we have a clear responsibility. At the domestic level, we shall counter racism and xenophobia claiming the principle of non-criminalization of irregular migrants. We need to promote inclusive societies and workplaces, avoiding divisions between natives and immigrants, organising migrant women and men, ensuring fair recruitment systems and guaranteeing access to all basic services.

In broad alliances with civil society organisations we have to fight against the root causes of forced migration and all factors that push people to flee their home countries.

We shall make sure that big trade agreements among countries and regions are fair and sustainable, both for society and the environment, with the creation of good quality jobs, fighting poverty and strengthening democracy.

Trade unions can make so much to help the international community and find a new governance of global migration. It is time to create a common and shared language, promoting unity and avoiding further conflicts, further useless divisions.


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