ILO to actively support in establishing a fair migration agenda

Special address by Ms. Dagmar Walter, Director ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi, at the inaugural session of Digital Conference - People on the Move: Impact & Way Forward organized by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)

Statement | New Delhi, India | 08 October 2020
Dr Sudhir Kapoor,

Mr Farhad Forbes,

Mr PS Reddy,

The organizers, Confederation of Indian Industries

The eminent speakers and distinguished audiences attending this important event,

Namaste and Good Afternoon to you all!

I am extremely pleased to be here with you today and I extend my warm greetings on behalf of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for South Asia and the Country office for India.

As employers and members of CII, your presence here today is a reflection of commitment towards strengthening relationships between migration, employment and business development. This discussion has become critical since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we saw migrant workers becoming the face of the job losses, and their struggles for returning home became a bitter memory of this time.

Migration – both internal and international – is not a new phenomenon for India. However, the magnitude of dependence on the migrant workforce is a realization for many.

As per the 2011 Census, there were over 455 million internal migrants in India. Among them over 40 million reported as: migrating for work. With most migrant workers getting absorbed within informal sectors, this figure stands to be underestimated, blurring the real situation of labour migration within the country.
The internal migrants contribute to high-growth sectors of construction, manufacturing and urban services at the destination sites. However, this group also deals with precarity and remains exposed to unsafe work conditions. Mostly recruited through informal channels; they are often underpaid and overworked. Cities, overburdened and underprepared to provide guaranteed social protection to these migrants, often deny them access to adequate food and nutrition, quality healthcare, housing or water and sanitation facilities.

As a COVID-19 response, Government of India’s announcements of the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme and the allocation of affordable housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) can surely bring some respite to the challenges faced by migrant workers.

Equally, many employers have stepped up to protect their workers during this time and have set examples by providing housing and WASH facilities. We will further need conscious efforts to maintain decent working standards, especially within our supply chains and will have to promote social dialogue to build the trust between the employers and migrant workers. To ensure that our responses are effective and sustainable, we need to address the issues of most vulnerable populations. Thus, an inclusive effort, responsive to the needs of gender, age, physical and mental abilities, irrespective of nature of employment, contractual, formal or informal, is needed.

I also wish to highlight a few aspects of the international migration. India is the largest migrant sending country in the world. In 2019, as per World Bank estimates, India received over 82 billion USD in remittances.

The pandemic highlighted that migrants, who often carry out essential jobs in health care, construction, transport, services, agriculture and agro-food processing industries at destination countries, are the ones who often lack adequate protections. Women represent a significant share of migrant domestic workers. The onset of the virus has subsequently had a detrimental effect on millions of these migrant workers, who are often the first to be laid-off during an economic crisis.

For many, either their contracts were terminated or their visas and work permits expired. These workers were also entrapped in high recruitment fees, wage penalties, and poor living conditions. Unable to find new economic opportunities in countries of destination, many were left in extremely vulnerable situations and forced to return.

Major sending countries in South Asia were quick to respond to this situation. The Government of India, for example, embarked on its Vande Bharat Mission, evacuating and repatriating over 2 million (or 20 lakhs) Indian nationals thus far.

The government has introduced the Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support (SWADES) to record the skill profiles of the returning migrant workers. Employers can use this database to recruit skilled and experienced workers.

I understand that the already disrupted domestic job market may find it difficult to effectively reintegrate the returnee migrants. With little social protection available at the destination, their sustenance will be a challenge.

Therefore, returnee migrant workers, irrespective of where they come from, need to be included in national and state government plans as target populations in employment and social protection schemes. For instance, systematic investments in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises for the integration of returnees with relevant skills and experience in the labour market would be beneficial. Local Economic Development will be of essence.
Skills development and recognition of prior learning would also be important for returning migrant workers. Returnees should also be entitled to portability of social protection, as well as their end of service benefits.

The Government of India adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December 2018. The GCM highlights the critical role of both the private sector and trade unions in this process. Employers and businesses can therefore serve as an engine for enterprise and job growth in countries of origin. Businesses can help make international migration a choice and not a necessity.

ILO has actively consulted employers over the last few months wherein we have jointly analysed labour market dynamics with a specific focus on labour migration and migrant workers.
A fair and effective labour migration governance system to address the needs of migrant workers, both within the country and outside, will be essential to support a future of work that we all would wish to see, especially when we aim to ‘Build Back Better’ from the current crisis.

I wish to assure you that as the UN Specialised Agency mandated by governments, employers and workers to bring social justice to the workplace, the ILO will continue to actively support you in establishing a fair migration agenda. I count on our partnership.

Thank you for your kind attention and I wish you well for these two days.