Migrant farmworkers in the Italian region of Calabria | Photo: ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud
Migrant farmworkers in the Italian region of Calabria | Photo: ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud

A new report by the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals that migrants earn up to 42% less than national workers in high-income countries, with women worse off than men. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely exacerbate the pay gap.

In high-income countries, the pay discrepancy between migrants and national workers is nearly 13% on average -- and has widened markedly in many countries in the last five years, notably Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.

That's according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), published on Monday (December 14).

The UN agency said much of the overall migrant pay gap could not be explained by differences in education, skills or experience. Instead, it was likely due to deep-rooted discrimination.

"Migrant workers often face inequality of treatment in the labor market, including with respect to wages, access to employment and training, conditions of work, social security and trade union rights," Michelle Leighton, ILO chief of labor migration, said in an online statement.

164 million labor migrants worldwide

Globally, there are an estimated 164 million migrant workers. Many are employed in agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining, manufacturing, construction as well as domestic and care work. "They play a fundamental role in many economies. They cannot be considered as second-class citizens," said ILO's Leighton.

Read more: Migrant workers' situation in Italy worse amid coronavirus pandemic

The report looked at data from 49 countries hosting nearly half of all international migrants and roughly one in three migrant workers worldwide.

Of all those countries, Cyprus had the biggest migrant pay gap at 42%, followed by Slovenia at 33%. The figure for Costa Rica, Italy and Jordan was approximately 30%, while the average across the 33 high-income countries analyzed was nearly 13%.

"Tackling discrimination and prejudice that are deeply entrenched in the workplace and our society is more important than ever," Leighton said during a media briefing.

The UN labor expert added that addressing the migrant pay gap is not only a matter of social justice, but will reduce inequalities between men and women and overall poverty. Leighton also urged governments to introduce adequate minimum wages and extend social protections to informal sector workers.

COVID-19 likely widens migrant pay gap

While the data was collected before the pandemic, the ILO said recent research in Mexico and the United States suggested the coronavirus crisis would increase the migrant pay gap.

Read more: Short on doctors, Italy looks to migrants

Having decimated jobs and livelihoods or caused earnings to drop, the pandemic forced tens of millions of migrants globally to return home. To others, most notably frontline workers, COVID-19 meant greater risk of infection due to higher exposure.

According to the ILO, migrants in high-income countries were more likely to be in precarious work: 27% were on temporary contracts and 15% were working part-time.

Migrant women especially hard hit

The study showed that "migrant women workers face a double wage penalty, both as migrants and as women." In high-income countries, the pay gap between male nationals and migrant women is estimated at nearly 21%.

Read more: Thai migrant workers pay for the 'privilege' of picking berries in Sweden

Overall, labor migrants are "more likely to work in lower-skilled and low-paid jobs that do not match their education and skills," according to the report. This "may point to discrimination during the hiring process."

The authors of the report also pointed out the lack of proper systems for recognizing qualifications from other countries.

With Thomson Reuters Foundation


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