Social Security Is the Right of Migrant Workers
Leroy Trotman, second from right, chairman of the workers’ group in the governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO), shakes hands with a leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at its headquarter in Seoul on Tuesday. Trotman visited Seoul for the 18th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work.
By Xenia Scheil-Adlung
Health and social security are human rights anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights are tightly connected to occupational health and safety.
The majority of migrant workers suffer health risks due to poor working conditions and low incomes making health services unaffordable.
In the past 15 years, the number of migrants has increased. In this globalized world, thousands of men and women cross national borders each year in search of better economic opportunities: According to the U.N. data, the number of migrant workers has grown up to 191 million in 2005.
Usually, the health status of migrant workers is lower than that of the native population, with undocumented migrants reporting lower than their documented counterparts: In certain OECD countries, migrants are five times more likely to be diagnosed with tuberculosis and migrant women's pregnancy related deaths are far higher than that of native women.
In addition, migrants are exposed to occupational hazards that significantly impact their health, especially those working in the informal economy and in mining, construction, heavy-manufacturing and agricultural jobs.
Many of them have no or limited social protection from diseases or accidents in the immigrated country.
Furthermore, most migrants cannot afford to pay for medical care or to be insured through private insurance. They also do not have the required documents to prove their eligibility for formal health protection programs.
As a result, each year approximately two million women die from work-related diseases and occupational accidents.
Across the globe, there are about 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million work-related diseases reported each year, according to "ILO Facts on Safety at Work 2005.''
Social Protection in Health can make health services affordable even to the poorest migrant workers and their families.
It consists of tax, contribution or premium funded benefits provided through national health services, social health/accident insurance, social assistance, and other forms of social security aiming at universal coverage of the population.
Against this background, the ILO Strategy Towards Universal Access to Health Care has been developed. It addresses issues related to access deficits to health services.
The ILO strategy allows for coverage to be effective whether a migrant worker is in his/her mother or immigrated country.
It advocates the establishment of representation, strengthening the role of labor unions and employers associations. It increases public awareness and information and the forgoing of ILO standards, international conventions and bilateral agreements between countries.
Social protection and migrant workers' issues and its approaches to address related concerns will be discussed at the 2008 World Congress on Safety and Health in Seoul. A symposium will be conducted today at COEX in southern Seoul for this purpose.
* The writer, who serves as a health policy coordinator of the Social Security Department at the International Labor Office in Geneva, contributed the following article to The Korea Times on the occasion of the 2008 World Congress on Safety and Health in Seoul which ends today.