In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18. It has always been assumed that migrant workers work in unsafe places, for long hours, and are treated unequally where they find work but these “costs” have never been estimated, let alone quantified. The KNOMAD/ILO surveys on migration costs is the first attempt to quantify some of these “hidden costs” of migration, and the findings confirm the seriousness of the phenomenon. The KNOMAD/ILO surveys have so far been undertaken in 11 countries involving some 24 migration corridors. They sought information on what workers paid to find and get recruited for their jobs abroad, as well as the terms and conditions under which they worked.
A yet-to-be-published KNOMAD report prepared on the “hidden costs” of migration prepared by ILO collaborators on these surveys have revealed the following:
- 30% of migrants did not have a contract signed prior to departure
- 14.7% did not receive wages on time
- 77.3% reported they received wages that were lower than those promised before departure, or included unforeseen deduction
- the average number of weekly hours is 71, with women working much longer hours than men.
- 25%of migrants report not having any rest day per week
- 30% of migrants experienced health-related problems, of which about one in five had serious work-related injuries – far above national averages
Migrants already receive lower average wages than native workers in many countries but often receive lower wages than what they were promised. Losses can represent at least 30% of total wage promised to migrants prior to departure, or 27% of total actual earnings.
The very high recruitment costs incurred by workers in some corridors, notably from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and UAE, from Bangladesh and Egypt to Kuwait, and from Nepal to Qatar, have given migrant workers no option but to seek extra earnings through “overtime work”. Working in very hot weather conditions long working hours sometimes lead to various health risks including heart failure and death. While death rates for migrants do not seem much higher than rates for the general population, they are higher when compared to similar young age groups in their origin countries.
Women migrant workers most of whom are in “domestic service” suffer the most from very long hours of work. The graph below shows how male and female Ethiopian workers who worked in Saudi Arabia were distributed according to reported hours they worked.
The surveys found that older migrants tend to have better outcomes than younger ones in terms of wages and certain work conditions. Also, the lower the skill and the greater the number of people to support back home, the worse off the migrants are in terms of contractual status, regularity of pay, hours worked, exercise of rights and aggregate losses incurred with respect to promised wages. Workers in construction or manual work are less likely than domestics to have contracts upon departure, but they are more likely than others to have a rest day and to be paid in case of injury or illness.
Computations done by ILO researchers suggest that “..on average, after dropping outliers, aggregate losses due to deficiencies in conditions of work abroad represent 29.7% of total promised wage, 27.3% of total actual wage, and 210% of recruitment and travel costs. By component, the loss due to wage problems account for about 7% of total promised earnings; the loss due to excessive hours problems represent 23.8% of total promised wage (36.7% in Saudi Arabia, 17.7% in Qatar, 25% in United Arab Emirates and 23.5% in Malaysia); and the loss due to health and social security problems represent about 0,6 % of total promised earnings”.