Protecting People in a pandemic

Urgent collaboration is needed to protect vulnerable workers and prevent exploitation

This publication examines key risks that COVID-19 presents for migrant and other vulnerable workers. The report provides practical guidance and current examples of measures that business and government can take to mitigate those risks. The report is informed by a rapid assessment of immediate COVID-related risks, responses, and recommendations identified by civil society, international organisations, business and industry groups, and worker rights’ networks.

Millions of vulnerable workers do not have access to COVID-19 testing, health care, sick leave or the physical or financial ability to isolate. Many have lost jobs and are stranded overseas, unable to support themselves or return home due to lockdowns and travel restrictions. The combination of these health, safety and economic risks creates the perfect storm for exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery to flourish.

Walk Free calls on business and government leaders to act urgently and collaboratively to address risks to vulnerable workers and protect lives. Whether that is migrant workers stranded without means to support themselves, or crews on vessels prevented from accessing basic supplies in port – we must put human rights and human lives first.

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WORKERS ARE STRANDED WITHOUT MEANS TO SUPPORT THEMSELVES

 

Many migrant workers are unable to return home due to travel restrictions and some countries have even closed their borders to citizens. Many are now left with limited access to food, accommodation and healthcare.

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LIVING AND WORKING CONDITIONS POSE HEALTH RISKS

 

Many industries including construction, manufacturing and agriculture are continuing operations during lockdowns, without adequate social distancing or PPE. Accommodation is often cramped making social distancing and isolation measures difficult, increasing the risk of COVID-19 spreading rapidly.

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LOWER ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE AND SICK LEAVE

 

The pandemic is exacerbating the challenges vulnerable workers already face in accessing health care and sick leave. Many cannot work remotely and depend on their wages for survival, making it more difficult to take time off to access testing and health care, or to comply with isolation requirements when ill.

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LACK OF TESTING DUE TO IMMIGRATION STATUS

 

Undocumented or irregular workers may not access COVID-19 testing or seek medical support due to fears it will expose them to deportation or mandatory detention.

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INCREASED VULNERABILITY TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND MODERN SLAVERY

 

The economic and social impacts of COVID-19 will lead to an increase in factors that fuel modern slavery and human trafficking: poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity for decent work, combined with expected higher rates of irregular migration.

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WOMEN ARE ON THE FRONTLINES AND AT INCREASED RISK OF EXPLOITATION

 

Women are disproportionately represented in the care and health services industries at the frontline of responding to COVID-19. With gender-based violence likely to increase during the crisis, many vulnerable women workers will be facing threats to their safety in addition to the health and economic risks posed by the pandemic.

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XENOPHOBIA AND DISCRIMINATION LEADING TO INCREASED VIOLENCE AND EXPLOITATION

 

Xenophobia and racism have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In some countries migrants are being denied health care and welfare support in order to prioritise the needs of citizens. This exacerbates
divisions between citizen and non-citizen workers which may lead to tolerance or acceptance of exploitative labour practices and violence against migrants.