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New Guidance For Protecting Migrant Workers During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Women migrant workers in a ceramics factory in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. UN Women/Pornvit Visitoran

As migrant workers continue to be on the front lines of the collective response to COVID-19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are releasing new employer guidance for measures to protect them.

Migrant workers are a crucial part of the global workforce, accounting for 3.5 per cent of the world’s population, according to IOM.

Worldwide, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, rely on them, including sectors providing essential commodities and services, as well as industries hard-hit by COVID-19.

Marina Manke, Head of the IOM Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, pointed out that they're working not only as “doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, but as the agricultural, transport and retail workers that keep our cities and towns functioning”.

Distinctive challenges

As the coronavirus continues to impact local communities, businesses can play a decisive role in addressing the unique challenges faced by migrant workers.

Susceptible to job loss, salary cuts, and various health and safety concerns, migrants are far away from family support networks, can face clear language or cultural barriers and often lack social protection. Many also suffer from discrimination.

Meanwhile, overseas economies that rely on financial contributions from migrant workers—especially low- and middle-income countries—face a steep decline in cross-border remittances.

A guiding hand

To address the specific challenges migrant workers face during COVID-19, IOM and ICC published a set of employer guidelines on Monday.

Highlighting the role of the private sector, the advice includes a set of general principles – such as treating all workers with “equality, dignity, and respect” – regardless of gender or migratory status.

It is presented in the five categories of physical and mental health; living and working conditions; economic support; ethical recruitment; and supply chain transparency.

“Employers are in a unique position to ensure full protection for these workers both at the workplace and in their communities of operation and supply chains”, said Ms. Manke. “We hope this guide will serve them well”.

On the ground

IOM, ICC and its network of national committees are working to raise awareness of the particular support measures needed for migrant workers during the pandemic among businesses in different regions.

Most recently, IOM and ICC – along with regional offices in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico – hosted a webinar directed at employers in Latin America in Spanish.

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