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West African government, employer and labour leaders adopt new "roadmap" for migrant labour

News | 01 August 2005

DAKAR, Senegal - West African government, labour and business leaders today adopted a new "Roadmap" for improving the working conditions of tens of millions of migrant labourers who provide a major source of finance flowing to their home countries.

Tripartite representatives from Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal adopted the "Roadmap" at the conclusion of a four-day regional meeting organized here by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to promote labour migration for integration and development in Africa.

According to the ILO, some 20 million Africans live and work outside of their home countries, a figure that will rise to one out of 10 African workers by 2015.

Remittances by migrants to their home countries have become a major source of financial flows. But restrictive or administrative obstacles to free circulation has led to a growth of irregular migration, exploitation of vulnerable workers and even trafficking, according to participants at the meeting.

Ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions on equal treatment for migrant workers and their transposition in national legislation is a priority for West African countries in the "Roadmap agreement".

Noting that discrimination and xenophobia against non-nationals are increasing in the region, the roadmap says unregulated migration is perceived as posing potential threats to domestic security and welfare and that no country has yet a coherent, comprehensive policy for managing labour migration.

The roadmap calls for the launch of national tripartite consultations on labour migrations and urges regional groupings such as the African Union, ECOWAS and the West Africa Economic and Monetary Union to establish consultative mechanism with business and trade unions on labour migration.

Government' and social partners' leaders from the eight countries agreed to take urgent steps to harmonize their labour legislation in line with international standards.

"Migration is globalization's last frontier," said Patrick Taran, ILO senior migration specialist, noting that movement of goods and capital are being rapidly liberalized while industrialized countries in particular are reluctant to provide additional legal avenues for would-be migrants despite the evident needs of their labour markets.

"One of the results of these policies has been to make smuggling and trafficking a thriving business" Victoria Nwogu an ILO project coordinator in Nigeria told delegates.

"When migration is well managed it offers a potential of advantages countries of origin as well as countries of destination, but if this process is badly administered it can lead to xenophobic movements and to discriminatory practices" said Lucien Glélé, representing the West African Union of Employers Organizations. Mr. Mamadou Niang (Mauritania), speaking on behalf of the workers' delegates, noticed that the concept of a decent work for all, the international standards of labour, the principles and the fundamental rights at work and the two ILO Conventions on migrant workers which provide for equality of treatment and opportunities for migrants were the leading principles of the meeting.

Countries agreed to develop and strengthen data collection and analysis on the basis of common criteria.

Support from the European Union to the ILO project was highly appreciated by participants. However, concern was expressed at the brain drain that is occurring as African doctors, nurses and teachers are increasingly being attracted to make up for labour shortages in schools and hospitals of rich countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 50 per cent of African doctors are likely to leave their country of origin. Every year Africa loses some 20,000 of its highly skilled professionals. It has been calculated that this is leading to a cost of four billion dollars a year to governments, employers and workers as taxpayers.

"West African governments are intent on putting their act together to ensure a fair deal for migrants in their countries. But migration is a global issue and requires attention of the whole international community" ILO Executive Director Assane Diop said.

Participants at the Dakar meeting decided to convey their "roadmap" to the European Union and the African Union and expressed support for the ILO efforts to put in place a multilateral framework for a global rights-based approach to labour migration.

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