The Empowerment of Migrant Workers in a Precarious Situation: An overview
The experience of transnational migrants working for low pay under exploitative conditions has been well-documented for many years. Yet, a sizeable catalogue of binding international instruments establishes a rights-based framework through which states commit to deliver substantive labour protections to migrant workers. By focusing on the operation of labour inspectorates in five countries – Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Qatar and South Africa – this paper undertakes a comparative analysis to explore what accounts for the persistent gap between the vision of the rights-based framework and the reality of rights violations that migrant workers experience. These countries were selected for comparison because they are located in five different geographic regions; are countries in which labour is performed by large numbers of migrant workers, and are countries to which migrant workers arrive through a mix of south-to-south and south-to-north migration flows. The research reveals that, across very different countries, economies, legal systems and migration flows, strikingly common patterns of structural inequality, exploitative behaviour and weakness in institutional design deny migrant workers’ secure protection of their labour rights and facilitate systemic discrimination, abuse and widespread rights violations. By focusing on the role and design of state-based labour inspection, this report seeks to account for why this is so.