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Migrant workers on the brink of another crisis: ILO

The International Labour Organisation, on Wednesday, said tens of millions of migrant workers who have been forced to return home because of the COVID-19 pandemic after losing their jobs face unemployment and poverty in their home countries.

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The International Labour Organisation, on Wednesday, said tens of millions of migrant workers who have been forced to return home because of the COVID-19 pandemic after losing their jobs face unemployment and poverty in their home countries. “This is a potential crisis within a crisis,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department. “We know that many millions of migrant workers, who were under lockdown in their countries of work, have lost their jobs and are now expected to return home to countries that are already grappling with weak economies and rising unemployment. Cooperation and planning are key to avert a worse crisis.”

As containment measures ease, millions of migrant workers may be required to return home to low and middle income countries where labour markets, which were fragile before the COVID-19 outbreak, are now further weakened by the additional strain of high levels of unemployment and serious business disruptions due to the pandemic, ILO said adding their families will suffer financially from the loss of the remittances normally sent to them. “Meanwhile, other migrant workers have found themselves stranded in host countries without access to social protection and little money for food or accommodation,” it further said.

According to ET, even those with jobs may be taking reduced wages and living in cramped worksite residences where social distancing is impossible, putting them at greater risk of contracting the virus. It is estimated there are 164 million migrant workers worldwide, nearly half of them women, comprising 4.7% of the global labour force. While not all of these workers will return home – after losing their jobs or for other reasons – more than 20 countries indicates that many millions are expected to do so, it said.


According to ILO, most of their home countries have very limited scope to reintegrate such large numbers, and often do not have policies and systems in place to ensure effective labour migration governance and smooth reintegration plans, including for skills development and recognition. The research also shows how returning migrant workers bring skills and talent that can help their home economies rebuild better after the pandemic, ILO said.

However, the key to unlocking this potential is the establishment of rights-based and orderly return and reintegration systems, access to social protection, and proper skills recognition, it said, adding this can facilitate better skills and jobs matching, thus increasing productivity for national industries. “With the right policies, the return of these workers can be converted into a resource for recovery,” Michelle Leighton, chief of ILO’s labour migration department added.
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