The United Nations says Asia Pacific countries need to address issues surrounding the rights of migrant workers as international talks move toward a Global Compact on migrant labor.

The Global Compact’s rise, with a final agreement set for 2018, was a result of the migrant crisis faced by the European Union with the influx of refugees and migrants from North Africa since 2015.

The U.N.’s Special Representative on migrant labor, Louise Arbour, says states can no longer ignore the issues of labor migration in a globalized economy.

“It has become increasingly clear that globalization has opened up more opportunities for people to migrate and that it has been in everybody’s interest not to curtail migration, actually, but to facilitate safe, orderly, regular migration,” Arbour told VOA.

Arbour, a Canadian lawyer and jurist, is overseeing the international consultations setting the framework for the draft document to be negotiated among U.N. member states.

​40 countries involved

Talks in Bangkok included representatives from more than 40 countries, including officials, academics and civil society, providing input into the final document.

The meeting called for migrant labor to have access to regular and safe migration opportunities, to be protected by labor laws as well as social protection.

U.N. Under Secretary General Shamshad Akhtar told the conference migrant rights were overlooked with their contributions “going unrecognized.”

“Migrants are often poorly paid, concentrated in labor work, employed in low skill jobs and in the informal sector requiring difficult and sometimes dangerous physical labor,” Akhtar said. “Addressing these challenges directly is all the more critical.”

Millions of migrant workers

In Asia and the Pacific there is estimated to be more than 60 million migrants living in the region, with more than 100 million originating from its shores working abroad.

Nepal and the Philippines are prime examples of countries heavily dependent on income from funds sent by migrant workers.

In 2017 remittances from migrant labor is forecast to inject almost $276 billion into the region’s economies.


A U.N. report released to coincide with the Bangkok meeting detailed the issues of migrants’ vulnerabilities to “exploitation and abuse” that governments need to address.

“The human rights of migrants face significant risks throughout the migration process by recruitment agents, employers and others,” the report said.

The report added that women migrant workers “face particular risks,” especially those in domestic work. “These risks are even more acute for migrants in an irregular situation.”

The Global Compact aims to build on existing conventions related to the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Arbour said the Global Compact “should be helpful in putting together better interstate cooperation to facilitate safer and more orderly migration flows.”

But she said challenges remain. These include reducing extravagant recruitment costs, lowering the cost of transfers of remittances, portability of benefits, specific protection for migrants, women workers and children.

Key to greater protection

Arbour said the Global Compact is a key step to greater protection for migrant workers.

“In some cases we will continue to see a lot of bilateral agreements or multilateral, very regional agreements with, I hope, much, much better implementation of existing human rights and labor standards.”

“So it’s not the end of the road, but I think it’s going to propel much, much better international cooperation and policy to deal particularly labor related migration,” Arbour said.

A global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, is set for final acceptance at the U.N. in New York by late 2018.

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