Millions of migrant workers have experienced job loss or non-payment of wages in their destination countries. Many also struggle with the dilemma of exercising their right to return in these circumstances, whilst others are stranded in cities without access to services or support. Countries of destination and origin have hastily begun repatriation procedures of these workers having no consideration of their predicament. Without proper controls, companies and employers might take advantage of mass repatriation programs to terminate and return workers without paying them due compensation, wages and benefits. Hence a majority of workers will face situations of debt bondage as they are likely to return empty handed but have to pay off recruitment fees.
In light of this, NGOs and unions call upon countries of origin and destination to put in place a transitional justice mechanism. It is crucial that this mechanism is expedited, accessible, affordable and efficient; that access to justice and compensation are a priority for repatriated workers; that safeguards are put in place to ensure workers can pursue cases after their return; and that States should require companies and employers to keep all employment records and provide copies to workers.
It is emphasized that states cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the issue of wage theft which has been persistent across migration corridors for years, and will be unprecedented in the case of repatriated migrant workers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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