The respect and dignity of labor migrants is under increasing threat, says Kassahun Follo, first vice president, International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, as migrant workers are demonized and denied basic rights, actions driven by exploitation, racism and xenophobia.

Follo spoke this morning at the opening of the January 25–27 Solidarity Center conference, “Achieving Fair Migration: Roles of African Trade Unions and Their Partners” in Johannesburg, South Africa, where more than 120 union leaders, migrant worker rights advocates and top international human rights officials from nearly two dozen countries and 57 organizations are gathering to share strategies for empowering migrant workers and map out plans for changing policies and laws to provide migrant workers fundamental workplace rights.

(Follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag FairMigration and check out Solidarity Center on Facebook for regular updates.)

Conference Seeks to ‘Put an End to Employer Abuse of Migrant Workers’

The conference’s opening day focused on the feminization of migration, the varied challenges of migration flows at the region=al level in East, Southern and West Africas, and the global threats of xenophobia and discrimination against migrant, included a discussion with migrant domestic workers.

The conference goal, says Peter Hardie, Solidarity Center country program director, is to “create concrete plans, multilateral and bilateral dialogue to drive change to put a permanent end to the abuses of migrant workers by their employers.”

Worldwide, some 150 million people have traveled across borders and are right now migrant workers in another country and send home global remittances totaling $601 billion dollars. In Africa, 34 million workers are migrants — the majority moving across borders to search for decent work. Half of migrant workers are women, who are especially targeted for abuse and exploitation, often due to their marginalization in the informal economy.

Africa, labor migration, Solidarity Center, Shawna Bader-Blau, human rights

“Making sure working people have the right to form trade unions is the heart and soul of our work,” Credit: Solidarity Center/Evidence Holdings 

Although labor migration fuels the world economy, it takes place in a global economy set up entirely on the belief that the free movement of capital and profit across borders is desirable, even sacrosanct; and that lack of regulation is what is needed to make this happen.

“Yet there has been no commensurate systemic expansion of the rights of the working people to go along with the incredible expansion of the rights of business. In fact, the opposite has occurred,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader Blau, speaking during the conference opening plenary.

Bader-Blau urged participants to build national, cross-border and global coalitions to advance human rights in trade agreements and regional economic integration programs, work harder together to end the double standard of investor rights over worker rights and hold governments accountable to the creation of decent work at home “so migration is truly a choice.”

“Making sure working people have the right to form trade unions is the heart and soul of our work,” says Bader-Blau. The conference must look at how unions “make sure migrant workers have these rights.”

Read Bader-Blau’s full speech here.

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