IOM’s advice for businesses and employers to protect migrant workers during COVID-19

The International Organization for Migration released 15 essential points of guidance for businesses and employers to assist in the active protection of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essential guidance points are as follows:

1. Ensuring Migrant Worker Safety

  • All workers should be treated with respect and equality, regardless of their migration status and/or gender. Employers must tailor their responses to the needs of their vulnerable groups within the work environment.
  • Employers should place migrant workers as a priority during the duration of this pandemic, they must ensure workers basic rights are being met, especially necessities related to health. This means that employers must regulate and comply with all public health requirements established by domestic and international authorities, ensuring that information is being communicated with the migrant workers.

2. Developing public health and safety in the workplace

  • Identify and prevent possible risks of exposure to workers through direct contact between other employees, alongside more than frequent cleaning of potentially infected surfaces (e.g. desks, tables, door handles, telephones and keyboards) with antibacterial cleaning products. Cleaning of such surfaces should be done on a more regular basis to ensure workers are in a clean environment.
  •  Hand washing and sanitizer stations should be placed all around the workplace, they should be located around toilets, doors, meeting rooms and canteens.
  • Workers should be provided with face masks or other protective material which should be accompanied with instruction manuals on their use.

 

3. Adjustments in the workplace

  • If your business continues to operate during the pandemic, employers should consider flexibility in work arrangements, ensuring all workers, including migrant workers, who in the event of school closures may have to provide additional time and care to their children. Thus, working hours should be made flexible to provide employees with the time they need to take care of potential family responsibilities, such as those with elderly relatives and children whose independence may be limited due to restrictive COVID-19 measures.
  • Take measures to categorize essential workers from the non-essential workers. Once identified, workers who can work off-site should be allowed to work from home or adopt flexible working hours.
  • Implement measures in the workplace to implement social distancing. This may include prohibiting in-person meetings and rearranging workstations to provide adequate space between employees.

4. Adjustment of living conditions for migrant workers

  • Employers should ensure that public health, hygiene and safety in employer-owned or operated accommodation for migrant workers comply with the current requirements of social distancing.
  • This may mean that employers should consider reorganising living arrangements to reduce the number of employees sharing the same room or accommodation. Thus, there should be a limit implemented on the number of people who can use communal kitchens or bathrooms/showers at one time.
  • Migrant workers must have access to emergency and health services at all times, additionally, all workers, guards and cleaners should be given updates on the requirements to ensure maximum safety in the living space.
  • Employees should have contingency arrangements made to successfully isolate employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 from other workers, and ensure that they receive the medical assistance they need.
  • Employers are also responsible for migrant workers living in third party housing. They may be required to support them particularly in cases where they face threats of eviction due to inability to pay rent due to workplace closures, loss of income or production slowdown. Where possible employers should exercise their power to mitigate terms with the landlord to prevent evictions.
  • In the event that workers are affected by reduced salaries, employers should consider exceptional measures in covering temporary accommodation costs and provide free food in the workplace or accommodation canteens.

 

5. Protecting the rights of migrant workers in emergencies

  • Employers must observe and comply with all relevant laws, regulations and collective agreements related to employment and working conditions.
  • These may include measures addressing working hours and restrictions on the allowance of overtime. Under the current circumstances, it may be necessary to monitor working hours to ensure workers are not exhausted or face excessive overtime and are allowed to enjoy daily rest time to ensure their immune systems are kept strong.
  • Employers must recognise that involuntary and compulsory overtime is strictly prohibited.
  • In the event of layoffs and redundancies, employers must meet their obligations under relevant laws and regulations including legal requirements concerning notice periods and compensation. In the case of migrant workers, this may mean that employers should exercise their responsibilities related to return assistance. Thus, migrant workers must have direct access to their travel documents at all times.

 

6. Payment of wages and economic well-being of migrant workers

  • Non-payment of wages in the case of production stoppage or lay-offs can have austere impacts on the livelihoods of migrants and their families at home. This can be especially devastating as migrant workers often incur financial debt and economic difficulties. Employers should ensure that they support migrant workers financially through continued wage payment.
  • Workers should be reimbursed for any recruitment related fees and costs they have incurred, regardless of their current employment status.
  • Employers should consider guaranteeing paid sick leave, in case a worker or a family illness arises related to COVID-19, this will ensure employees have income security and can continue providing for their families.

 

7. Measures to address the vulnerability of domestic workers

  • Private employers should give strong consideration to the distinctive vulnerabilities migrant domestic workers may face, with experiencing high levels of isolation and lack of access to services and health protection as they work in private households.
  • Employers of domestic workers have the responsibility to ensure that the household adopts new safety and health measures. This means that domestic workers should be provided with the necessary material, such as masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer and be given adequate instructions on their use.
  • Domestic workers need to have an adequate amount of rest days, annual leave and sick leave following relevant laws. This means that time off work for health-related reasons should not be deducted from their salaries.
  • In the case of illness or hospitalization, employers should ensure that domestic workers have valid health insurance for the duration of COVID-19. Addition to this, domestic workers should have an up-to-date visa, stay permit and other relevant documents.
  • Employers should allow domestic workers to exercise the right to their freedom of travel, thus they should be in possession of their passports and other relevant identity documents. Equally, employers should allow domestic workers to have access to mobile phones and WI-FI to ensure that migrant workers can stay in contact with their family members abroad.

 

8. Return of migrant workers during the pandemic

  • In any case that migrant workers return to their home countries, employers should organize and pay for all related travel costs.
  • Employers should provide workers with all the relevant safety rules that apply during and after travel. This includes information on mandatory quarantine regulations upon arrival. Thus, they should be provided with hygienic travel kits to ensure safe travels.

 

9. Communicating with migrant workers

  • During this pandemic, migrant workers should have access to open channels of communication information. They should be given updates on the status of their jobs. Alongside up-to-date legal and administrative advice.
  • New channels of communication should be formed to transfer relevant COVID-19 related information to workers, including migrant workers. This may mean that information should be communicated in all languages to ensure easy accessibility.
  • Employers should brief all employees in or out the workplace on the symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, dry cough and should be told to self isolate at home to prevent the risk of spread. 
  • Employers should consider circulating educational leaflets around the workplace. Text-based information should be translated into all languages present in the workplace.

 

10. Promoting universal access to health care and insurance

  • Migrant workers face many barriers to accessing social protection and health care. This could be due to the inability to obtain health insurance, making them unable to provide the necessary funds for hospitalization. Due to the current circumstances, this provides a great public health risk.
  • Employers should ensure migrant workers have access to translators who can ensure they are able to communicate with doctors during medical or hospital visits.

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