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The Human Rights of Work & Workers

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Human Rights & Migrants | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Migrant Workers

What are the Human Rights of Migrant Workers?

All persons, regardless of their nationality, race, legal or other status, are entitled to fundamental human rights and basic labor protections, including migrant workers and their families. Migrants are also entitled to certain human rights and protections specifically linked to their vulnerable status.

The Human Rights at Issue

The human rights of migrant workers and their families include the following universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent human rights:

  • The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, sex, religion or any other status, in all aspects of work, including in hiring, conditions of work, and promotion, and in access to housing, health care and basic services.

  • The human right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, particularly in regard to human rights and labor legislation, regardless of a migrant's legal status.

  • The human right to equal pay for equal work.

  • The human right to freedom from forced labor.

  • The human right to protection against arbitrary expulsion from the State of employment.

  • The human right to return home if the migrant wishes.

  • The human right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the migrant worker and his or her family.

  • The human right to safe working conditions and a clean and safe working environment.

  • The human right to reasonable limitation of working hours, rest and leisure.

  • The human right to freedom of association and to join a trade union.

  • The human right to freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • The human right to protection during pregnancy from work proven to be harmful.

  • The human right to protection for the child from economic exploitation and from any work that may be hazardous to his or her well-being and development.

  • The human right of children of migrant workers to education.

  • The human right of migrants and their families to reunification.


Human Rights & Migrants | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Rights of Migrant Workers

What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Rights of Migrant Workers?

Includes excerpts from the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) (No. 97), the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention (No. 143), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), the ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87), the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), and the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 38).

"States Parties undertake ... to respect and to ensure to all migrant workers and ... their families within their territory ... rights ... without distinction of any kind such as sex, race, colour, language, religion..., national, ethnic or social origin, nationality ... or other status.... Migrant workers and members of their families shall be free to leave any State, including their State of origin...; ... shall have the right at any time to enter and remain in their State of origin.... No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... No migrant worker ... shall be held in slavery or servitude...; ... shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.... Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...; ... shall have the right to equality with nationals of the State concerned before the courts and tribunals...; shall not be subject to measures of collective expulsion.... Every migrant worker and every member of his or her family shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law...; ... shall enjoy treatment not less favourable than that which applies to nationals of the State of employment in respect of remuneration ... overtime, hours of work, weekly rest, holidays with pay, safety, health, termination of the employment relationship ... minimum age of employment.... States Parties recognize the right of migrant workers ... To take part in meetings and activities of trade unions.... With respect to social security, migrant workers and members of their families shall enjoy in the State of employment the same treatment granted to nationals in so far as they fulfil the requirements provided for by .. applicable legislation.... Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to receive any medical care that is urgently required for the preservation of their life or the avoidance of irreparable harm to their health on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals of the State concerned.... Each child of a migrant worker shall have the right to a name, to registration of birth and to a nationality...; ... shall have the basic right of access to education on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals of the State concerned...."
--International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Articles 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 18, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30

"Each Member ... undertakes to apply, without discrimination in respect of nationality, race, religion or sex, to immigrants lawfully within its territory, treatment no less favourable than that which it applies to its own nationals in respect of the following matters: ... remuneration, ... hours of work, overtime arrangements, holidays with pay, restrictions on home work, minimum age for employment, apprenticeship and training, women's work and the work of young persons; ... membership of trade unions and enjoyment of the benefits of collective bargaining; ... accommodation; ... social security (... legal provision in respect of employment injury, maternity, sickness, invalidity, old age, death, unemployment....)"
-- Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) (No. 97), Article 6

"Each Member ... undertakes to respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers.... Each Member ... undertakes to ... pursue a ... policy designed to promote and to guarantee ... equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, of social security, of trade union and cultural rights and of individual and collective freedoms for persons who as migrant workers or as members of their families are lawfully within its territory.... Each Member shall ... formulate and apply a social policy ... which enables migrant workers and their families to share in advantages enjoyed by its nationals while taking account, without adversely affecting the principle of equality of opportunity and treatment, of such special needs as they may have until they are adapted to the society of the country of employment; ... take all steps to assist and encourage the efforts of migrant workers and their families to preserve their national and ethnic identity and their cultural ties with their country of origin, including the possibility for children to be given some knowledge of their mother tongue; ... A Member may take all necessary measures ... and collaborate with other Members to facilitate the reunification of the families of all migrant workers legally residing in its territory...."
-- Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention (No. 143), Articles 1, 10, 12, and 13

"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.... Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.... Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family ... and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability ... or other lack of livelihood ...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 4, 20, 23, 24, and 25

"The States Parties ... recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind...; a decent living ...; safe and healthy working conditions; equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted ...; rest, leisure, and reasonable limitation of working hours .... the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice ... for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests...; the right to strike... the right ... to social security.... Children and young persons should be protected from economic ... exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law.... States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family...."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

"No one shall be held in slavery .... No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.... An alien lawfully in the territory of a State Party ... may be expelled ... only ...in accordance with law.... All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals.... The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association ..., including the right to form and join trade unions.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language...."
--International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 8, 13, 14, 21, 22, 26, and 27

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, ... the right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and ... training; the right to equal remuneration ... and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value...; the right to social security...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction....."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 11

"States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association...; the rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, ...to equal pay for equal work, to just and favourable remuneration; the right to form and join trade unions...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality.... States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will.... [A]pplications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with ... in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.... States Parties shall respect the right of the child and his or her parents to leave any country, including their own, and to enter their own country.... States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.... the right ... to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... the right of the child to education, and ... shall ... make primary education compulsory and available free to all.... States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to ... the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living [and] the country from which he or she may originate.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities ... exist, a child belonging to such a minority ... shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.... States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.... States Parties shall ... provide for a minimum age ... for admissions to employment...; provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment...."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 7, 9, 10, 15, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 32

"Each Member... undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms...."
--ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), Article 1

"Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and ... to join organizations of their own choosing...."
--ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87), Article 2

"Each Member shall ... ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value."
--ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), Article 2

"Each Member ... undertakes to declare and pursue a ... policy ... to promote ... equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination...."
--ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), Article 2

"Each Member... undertakes to pursue a ... policy ... to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.... The minimum age ... shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.... The minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years...."
--ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 38), Articles 1, 2, and 3


Human Rights & Migrants | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Rights of Migrant Workers

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Rights of Migrant Workers?

Includes commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the World Conference on Women in Beijing.

"Great importance must be given to the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons belonging to groups which have been rendered vulnerable, including migrant workers, the elimination of all forms of discrimination against them.... The World Conference on Human Rights urges all State to guarantee the protection of the human rights of all migrant workers and their families. The World Conference ... considers that the creation of conditions to foster greater harmony and tolerance between migrant workers and the rest of the society of the State in which they reside is of particular importance...."
--Vienna Declaration, Part II, paras. 24, 33 and 34

"Countries receiving documented migrants should provide proper treatment and adequate social welfare services for them and their families, and should ensure their physical safety and security .... Countries should guarantee to all migrants all basic human rights as included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.... Objectives ...: To ensure the social and economic integration of documented migrants ... and their equal treatment before the law; ... To eliminate discriminatory practices against documented migrants, especially women, children and the elderly; ... To ensure protection against racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia; ... To promote the welfare of documented migrants and members of their families.... Special efforts should be made to enhance the integration of the children of long-term migrants by providing them with educational and training opportunities equal to those of nationals.... Governments, particularly those of receiving countries, must recognize the vital importance of family reunification and promote its integration into their national legislation in order to ensure the protection of the unity of the families of documented migrants.... Objectives ... To address the root causes of undocumented migration;... to prevent the exploitation of undocumented migrants and to ensure that their basic human rights are protected...."
--Cairo Programme of Action, Principle 12 and paras. 10.10, 10.12, and 10.16

"We will ... ensure that migrant workers benefit from the protections provided by relevant national and international instruments, take concrete and effective measures against the exploitation of migrant workers, and encourage all countries to consider the ratification and full implementation of the relevant international instruments on migrant workers.... We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that ... are based on ... non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, ... and participation of all people.... To this end ... we will ... Formulate or strengthen measures to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of migrants, migrant workers and their families, to eliminate the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia in sectors of many societies, and to promote greater harmony and tolerance in all societies. "
--Copenhagen Declaration, Commitments 3 and 4

"There is need for intensified international cooperation and national attention to the situation of migrant workers and their families. To that end: ... Governments of receiving countries are urged to consider extending to documented migrants ... and ... their families ... treatment equal to that accorded their own nationals with regard to the enjoyment of basic human rights, including equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of religious practices, working conditions, social security, participation in trade unions and access to health, education, cultural and other social services, ... equal access to the judicial system and equal treatment before the law.... Governments ... are urged to cooperate in reducing the causes of undocumented migration, safeguarding the basic human rights of undocumented migrants and preventing their exploitation.... Governments should ensure that documented migrants receive fair and equal treatment, including full respect of their human rights, protection of the laws of the host society, appropriate access to economic opportunities and social services; protection against racism ...; and protection from violence and exploitation.... Special efforts should be made to enhance the integration of the children of long-term migrants by providing them with educational and training opportunities equal to those of nationals.... Governments of receiving countries must ensure the protection of migrants and their families, giving priority to programmes and strategies that combat religious intolerance, racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and gender discrimination...."
--Copenhagen Programme of Action, paras. 63 and 77

"The Platform for Action recognizes that women face barriers to full equality and advancement because of such factors as their race, ... language, ethnicity, culture ... or because of other status.... Additional barriers also exist for ... displaced ... immigrant ... and migrant women, including women migrant workers.... Actions to be taken: ... Ensure the full realization of the human rights of all women migrants, including women migrant workers, and their protection against violence and exploitation; introduce measures for the empowerment of documented women migrants...; facilitate the productive employment of documented migrant women through greater recognition of their skills, foreign education and credentials, and facilitate their full integration into the labour force.... Ensure that internally displaced women have full access to economic opportunities and that the qualifications and skills of immigrant and refugee women are recognized.... Establish linguistically and culturally accessible services for migrant women and girls, including women migrant workers, who are victims of gender-based violence. Recognize the vulnerability to violence and other forms of abuse of ... women migrant workers, whose legal status in the host country depends on employers who may exploit their situation...."
--Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 58(k) and (l), and 125 (b) and (c).


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org