Dignity and rights for all migrant workers in Europe

On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, 20 February, and with a view to the upcoming inter-governmental negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), Caritas Europa calls on the European Union and all European governments to foster a more inclusive Europe that ensures decent working conditions for all migrant workers, including those in an irregular situation. Migrant workers strongly contribute to our societies and our economies, but it is time we also respect their dignity and recognise their rights.

“I worked in Belgium for a building company. I was irregular. I didn’t have any papers, so I was afraid of the police. The employer nearly never paid my wages. My wife and I were hiding; sometimes we had nothing to eat and we had trouble paying the rent,” explains Gabriel, a migrant from Brazil working in Belgium (source: Caritas Belgium).
Migrant workers have become a cornerstone of our societies. They sustain our economies, particularly in basic sectors, such as agriculture and cleaning. Migrant workers make our societies more diverse and multicultural, and contribute to keeping our welfare systems healthy. While we value migrant workers for their work, we rarely ensure that their rights both as workers and human beings are guaranteed and enforced. Migrant workers, particularly those in an irregular situation, are especially vulnerable to labour exploitation. They may be at the mercy of dubious recruitment agencies, which require exorbitant recruitment fees, or remain trapped at the lowest levels of the labour market, where working standards are non-existent or not enforced. Fearing detection or reprisal, or lacking enough knowledge about their rights, many irregular migrant workers are often unable to seek legal remedy.

“Over the last few years, the EU and its Member States have increasingly prioritised migration control and repression to the detriment of a comprehensive labour migration policy. At Caritas, we believe migrant workers’ rights, including those of irregular migrants, should be guaranteed and enforced, because that ensures that everyone’s rights and dignity in society are fully respected,” says Shannon Pfohman, Caritas Europa’s Policy and Advocacy Director.

This week, states meet at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York to discuss the first draft of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), a pioneering agreement designed to improve the global governance of migration. The GCM is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, among others, the Sustainable Development Goals on safe migration and labour rights. This is an opportunity for European governments to reaffirm and strengthen their commitment to protect the rights of all migrant workers, to safeguard conditions that ensure decent work, and to lay the ground for the development of a more comprehensive labour migration policy that will reduce the incidence of both irregular migration and human smuggling and trafficking in Europe.