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IGAD Regional Guidelines on Rights Based Bilateral Labour Agreements (BLAs)

Migration for Employment from IGAD Member States to other regions has increased exponentially in recent years. Structural drivers of labour migration, including a lack of decent employment opportunities at home, demand for workers in specific sectors abroad, combined with lowering costs of transportation, greater access to information and a booming of private recruitment agencies are some of the factors contributing to the increase in outflow of migrant workers from the region.

In this regard, the Arab States have emerged as important destinations for workers from the IGAD region particularly in sectors such as domestic work, construction and low skilled service jobs. These are however, sectors characterised by poor working conditions and weak government oversight characterised by increased risk of exploitation and abuse, which ultimately reduce the development returns on migration.

Several governments in the IGAD region are increasingly aware of these challenges, and sought to conclude bilateral labour agreements (BLAs) with major destination countries to better regulate labour migration flows and improve working conditions for their nationals abroad. Yet, recent ILO research indicates that BLAs have been under-utilised to advance the protection of migrant workers’ rights. In some cases, BLAs are not well negotiated or do not align with international instruments, agreements can actually weaken protection embodied in international standards and national laws, or lead to differential treatment according to migrant workers’ nationality. This may be a reflection of the unequal negotiating power between origin and destination countries. Countries of origin may in effect find themselves in competition with each other, leading to a “race to the bottom,” exerting downward pressure on wages and working conditions for migrant workers.

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