PICUM calls world governments to act on labour rights for undocumented migrants

In 2015, countries across the world jointly adopted 17 goals to advance global sustainable development for everyone by 2030. But without concrete action from governments, undocumented migrants are likely to be left out of the picture.


Speaking at a United Nations event in New York on 26 February (Expert Symposium on International Migration and Development), PICUM’s Director Michele LeVoy highlighted that governments must ensure migrants’ access to employment, healthcare, and education if they want to achieve sustainable development for everyone.

Today, however, sustainable development largely leaves migrants behind. In the EU alone, according to 2015 data from Eurostat, 50% of non-EU nationals are at risk of falling into poverty and facing social exclusion.

If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be met by 2030, governments need to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of undocumented migrants.

Goal 8, for instance, envisages decent work for everyone, which largely remains an illusion for undocumented workers.


Michele LeVoy’s intervention at 2:16:20.


With no valid residence or work permit, undocumented workers are often exposed to blackmail, abuse, and exploitation by their employers. The precarious residence and work status of many migrant workers prevents them from reporting such abuses to the labour authorities, as any exposure may lead to arrests, detention, and ultimately deportation.

PICUM’s Director Michele LeVoy said “We need effective complaints mechanisms for people to come forward regarding abuse and exploitation on the workplace. They need to trust they won’t end up arrested or detained because of the immigration status.”

This requires a “firewall”, to keep labour standards enforcement separate from immigration enforcement.

Firewalls are a win-win for everyone. The more undocumented workers can safely report abuses and claim unpaid wages, the more efficient the fight against abusive employers and unfair competition will be.

As PICUM’s Director put it, “The firewall is a key mechanism for labour inspectors to do their work.” In fact, the International Labour Organisation requires labour inspectors to keep the source of any complaint confidential.

PICUM has long been campaigning for mechanisms which allow undocumented workers to safely report violations of their labour rights and access labour justice without the involvement of immigration enforcement authorities.

Besides labour justice, we’re advocating for the establishment of effective firewalls for all public services, including health care and police. You can learn more about the benefits of firewalls in these essential services here.

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