In 2000, December 18 was declared International Migrants Day by the United Nations. But eight years on, the UN is still striving to obtain a ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families. There are more than 150 million migrants (workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, permanent immigrants and others) and this convention wants to put an end to the abuses they face, though migrants contribute to the social, political and cultural dimensions of the societies they live in.
The efforts for an international agreement started in 1970 when illegal trafficking of labour came to light. The first World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, held in 1978, recommended the elaboration of a convention for protecting the rights of migrant workers. The convention came into force in 2003. But as of October 2008, only 39 nations have ratified it.
The convention outlines the rights of a migrant worker and provides a set of binding international standards to address the treatment, welfare and human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants as well as the obligations and responsibilities on the part of the sending and receiving States. The Convention defines the term ‘migrant worker’ as “a person who is to be engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national”. Some of the rights of migrant workers are: right to life, liberty, protection from collective expulsion and to adequate conditions of work, freedom of movement and residence within the territory of the host county and equal treatment with nationals in respect of protection against dismissal from employment.
Further, the convention imposes a series of obligations on the signatories: promotion of sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions for the international migration of workers and their family members and establishes rules for migrant workers and for their return to the States of their origin. These requirements include the establishment of policies on migration; the exchange of information with other States parties; the provision of information to employers, workers and their organisations on policies, laws and regulations; and assistance to migrant workers and their families. The convention seeks to put an end to the illegal recruitment and trafficking of migrants and discourages the employment of migrant workers in an irregular or undocumented situation.
However, the convention has failed to gather momentum. Even some of the important migrant-receiving countries in Europe have not signed it. India is also not a party to it though on average 450,000 Indians go abroad annually for employment. It is important to review India’s stand regarding the convention as it can have implications for the security and prosperity of its migrant workers.
The Labour Ministry needs to examine the compatibility of the existing national legislation with the convention to set the stage to becoming a party to the same. But even if there is incompatibility between the national legislation and the convention, it should not stop us from becoming a party. Appropriate national legislation can be drafted upon ratification of the convention. The other reasons for not becoming a party appear to be fear of complications for the State as migration may even create security risks and social friction.
Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik is an Assistant Professor at the Indian Society of International Law, New Delhi