Migrant rights' advocates and representatives of migrant workers unions from Asia, the Middle East and Europe gathered together to participate in this year's ILO (International Labor Organization) general assembly otherwise known as the 92nd Session of the International Labor Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland from June 1-17, 2004.
It was the first time that a delegation of migrant advocates participated in the ILO, a tri-partite body of the United Nations. It was also the first time that the ILO included as its 6th item on its agenda a general discussion on migrant workers.
A comprehensive synthesis of the current development in labor migration, its impact and consequences and the issues raised for regulation, governance and cooperation were articulated in the ILO report "Towards a Fair Deal for Migrant Workers in the Global Economy" specifically prepared for the ILC. It was presented to the Committee on Migrant Workers by Mr. Manolo Abella, representative of the ILO Secretary General. In his presentation, Mr. Abella called the attention of the Committee on the following issues for consideration in the discussions:1. Phenomenon of Labor Migration: Is labor migration a global phenomenon? What dimensions of migration for employment should be of concern to the ILO and its constituents?
The ILO's tri-partite structural definition of its social partners being the trade unions, employers and governments is a challenge for migrant advocates to make our voices heard and our contributions to the discussions recognized.
The ILC itself conducted briefings for NGO participants on the programs of the various committees. Within the Committee on Migrant Workers, a liaison team was identified between the workers group and the migrant NGOs to negotiate NGO participation in the committee. Negotiations were conducted daily.
And we succeeded. In all the three days that floor debates were ongoing, the Committee allowed us 5-10 minutes of speaking time. We managed to deliver three statements to the committee for their consideration. The first one was an assertion and affirmation of a multilateral rights' based approach to migration. The second intervention was focused on the call for respect and dignity to women migrant domestic workers. The last intervention was identifying areas for consideration in the committee's plan of action. Our twin delegation from Migrants' Rights International (MRI) and the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) also delivered two more interventions in the general assembly. During the amendment period, members of the MRI-MFA delegation from Asia including myself had kept close contacts with our respective government representatives for lobby and advocacy purposes.
"We achieved our purpose 120 percent," declared Patrick Tharan, ILO Migration Specialist, to the group of workers and migrant advocates after the conclusions of the amendment sessions which end long hours of agonizing and tolerance-testing debates that went on until late evenings in Room 20 of the Palais des Nations.
Overall, the general discussions and deliberations in the Committee on Migrant Workers had been informative, comprehensive, exhaustive and positive. The report's conclusions include the following:
The positive report and conclusions of the Committee on Migrant Workers could not have been possible without the steadfast resolve, sharpness of mind and body and a consistent pro-migrant perspective of the workers' group embodied by its spokesperson and main negotiator Ms. Sharan Burrow, President of the Australian Confederation of Trade Unions (ACTU).
The workers, oftentimes in agreement with the employers' group, were unrelenting and uncompromising in defending to governments the principle that all migrant workers, regardless of immigration status, job categories, gender, religious and ethnic origins and nationalities, deserve respect, equal treatment and non-discrimination and must be afforded basic fundamental rights enjoyed by workers in host countries.
Debates between workers and employers on the one hand and governments on the other, centered on the issues of a human rights-based approach versus a responsibility-based approach; multilateral framework or bilateral and regional and state sovereignty; non-discrimination and equal treatment as applied to irregular migrants; promotion of conventions and standards and the role of the ILO in respect of other international agencies concerned with labor migration; and the role of NGOs and civil society groups.
The 92nd ILC Session is a watershed in ILO history because it renewed its mandate to abide by and promote standards for the protection of migrant workers as enshrined in its numerous conventions such as the more than half-a-decade old ILO Convention 97, Migration for Employment Convention, and ILO Convention 143 or the Migrant Workers Convention (Supplementary Provisions) adopted in 1975. This becomes more relevant in the light of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
For ordinary migrants, these international instruments may be something way above their heads. And this is true if and when governments do not ratify, comply with and take measures that reflect and manifest their commitments in both national and local policies and legislation, as well as in the practice and attitude of people in government and in the communities.
Conversely, international instruments are not static. Instead they come about as a result of humankind's continued quest and hunger for a just and fair world for all.