It is my pleasure to represent the United States Government at the 103rd Session of the International Labor Conference. On behalf of our Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, I would like to congratulate Director-General Guy Ryder for his important, insightful, timely, and pragmatic report on labor migration.
The rapid transformation of the global economy in the past two decades has included a transformation of the global workforce, and of the methods used to employ them. Significant and complex international migration flows have resulted in fast-changing patterns of worker relocation. Increasing pressure to “cut the bottom line” has led to unprecedented growth in outsourcing, flexibilization, and the obfuscation of direct employment relationships.
These global labor market trends have enormous ramifications for working people, communities, and labor markets.
Labor migration unquestionably has many benefits, and we in the United States celebrate and are deeply proud of our immigrant heritage. We are indebted to migrant workers for their incredible contributions to our country. However, labor migration also can create a population of workers more susceptible to labor abuse, especially when they do not enjoy the same labor protections as nationals.
Migrants are not the only ones who frequently find themselves in what has become, to a large extent, a global, second-tier workforce, often lacking adequate legal protections for basic labor rights, clear terms of employment, recognized contracts, benefits, access to social programs, and other social and labor protections. This vulnerable workforce–of adults and sometimes children, migrants and nationals–includes domestic workers, temporary workers, and workers laboring for informal enterprises. It also often includes the millions employed by third-party contractors, employment agencies, or other intermediaries.
Such indirect employment increasingly creates in-house workforces working side by side with directly hired, permanent workers, often doing the same jobs while receiving lower wages, fewer benefits and protections, and little to no job security. Oftentimes these positions are created not only to cut costs but to circumvent labor law obligations, sidestep inspections, and undermine workers’ rights – in particular freedom of association.
In the United States, for example, some unscrupulous firms deliberately misclassify workers, a practice that Secretary Perez has called “nothing short of workplace fraud,” resulting in workers “being denied the minimum wage, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, and worker compensation benefits.”
Despite a universal commitment to decent work, labor laws and enforcement methods have simply not kept pace with this transformation of the global workforce and the increasingly precarious forms of employment. As a result, the second-tier, inadequately protected workforce of vulnerable workers has mushroomed.
All of us as ILO members must work to address this problem. The ILO, in turn, must be prepared to help provide legal guidance and technical assistance to enable governments to tighten their labor laws and improve enforcement capabilities.
In this spirit, we warmly welcome the clear identification by the Director-General’s report of areas where the ILO can bring added value in the area of labor migration. As the only international agency dedicated exclusively to employment, labor rights, and working conditions, and in light of its Constitutional mandate for the “protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own,” the ILO has a major role in the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.
Finally, I want to emphasize the central importance of the ILO’s supervisory machinery, including the Committee on the Application of Standards, in ensuring that labor standards are not only ratified and celebrated but applied, in law and practice, especially on behalf of our most vulnerable populations. The transformation of the global workforce underscores the importance of such universal labor standards. A failure to uphold this system is a failure to honor our core belief, so perfectly expressed in the Declaration of Philadelphia, that:
all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.