Migrants making mark in global workforce: ILO

Syrian refugees Elo Manushian (centre) arrives with her husband Hagop (second left) at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto.
Syrian refugees Elo Manushian (centre) arrives with her husband Hagop (second left) at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Migrants are increasingly participating in a globalised economy, notably in the services sectors, according to a report released on Wednesday (Dec 16) by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO shed light on new data which quantifies for the first time the extent to which a global migrant workforce estimated at 150.3 million people - 44 per cent of them women - is carving a professional niche in the countries receiving them.

At a time when mass migration, heightened by the conflict in Syria and economic crisis, has become a political hot potato, the ILO said its calculations showed migrant workers make up almost three quarters - 72.7 per cent - of a global migrant population which it puts at 206.6 million people of working age.

Ms Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO's Conditions of Work and Equality Department, said she believed the data, which relates to 2013, would allow for "better informed debates" about migrants in general and their contribution to the societies they join.

"These are people who make important contributions to the labour market and the economy of countries of destinations," Ms Tomei asserted.

"We believe the most important contribution is that very often the debates surrounding migration are inflamed debates and are characterised by a mismatch between perceptions and realities.

"So we believe and we hope that these estimates may indeed help in terms of providing further insights and greater clarity to this debate," she said.

For ILO statistical director Rafael Diez de Medina, "this report sets a new standard in the quest to have sound global figures to guide policy makers" and said the issue would over the coming years be at the forefront of the development agenda.

The ILO estimates the total global migrant population at 232 million people, but its figures do not show what proportion have migrated illegally or at least not through an established, legal process.

However, Ms Tomei referred to previous ILO findings estimating "irregular migrants" at "between 10 and 15 per cent of the total" - including people without proper paperwork or those living in a country after overstaying a visa.

The ILO said its findings suggested migrants generally do not compete for employment with native populations with "the vast majority" of them based in the services sectors, followed by industry.

Ms Tomei stated that the study of date from 176 countries showed most people migrate to better themselves and the ILO's methodology would "add significantly to our knowledge base on migration and provide a strong foundation for the development of effective migration policies".

But the ILO warned there was a need to monitor domestic work, describing a sector which typically sees a strong concentration of migrant women as requiring regulation owing to "relatively low visibility" prone to "multiple forms of discrimination".

The ILO also warned this week of the perils of forced labour, calculating that 21 million people are victims - 11.4 million women and girls - with the vast majority exploited by private individuals or enterprises.

"Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation," the NGO noted.

"Forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion (S$212 billion) in illegal profits per year," the ILO added.