Ireland ignores migrant rights convention for 20 years

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. To date no EU Member State has either signed or ratified the Convention. By Alison Spillane

The treatment of migrant workers in Ireland has come to the fore many times this year with cases such as the treatment of domestic workers in the Filipino and South African embassies making the news. The release of the documentary Hidden Voices: Stories from Behind Closed Doors earlier this year also highlighted the exploitative conditions in which many domestic workers live and work.

As well as this, 2010 saw the publication of the new Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. The Bill has been heavily criticised by organisations such as the Migrants Right Centre of Ireland (MRCI) and Ruhama.

MRCI argues that the Bill denies undocumented workers access to justice as it gives the Minister for Justice & Law Reform the power to deport a person from Ireland without prior notice or any right to present their case.

Ruhama, who works with women affected by prostitution, has stated that the Bill grants protection only to victims of trafficking on the condition that they co-operate with a criminal investigation. CEO Sarah Benson has said that this conditional clause further traumatises victims.

Ireland has repeatedly shied away from signing up to the principles of the Convention, and all indications are that the government has no plans to ratify it; there is no mention of the Convention in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, nor does it appear in the human rights section of the Department of Foreign Affairs website where Ireland's ratification of human rights instruments is outlined.

The Convention, also known as the Migrant Workers Convention, emphasises the need for migrant workers to be treated as human beings and afforded their basic human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The Convention does not create any new rights for migrants, however it does give rights to undocumented workers. This is likely one of the key factors in Ireland's reluctance to sign up to the Convention; the Immigration, Residence & Protection Bill 2010 will remove the current 15-day entitlement undocumented workers have to present their case to the Minister for Justice & Law Reform, instead enabling summary deportations .

The Convention provides the framework for a rights-based approach to migration policy and although it acknowledges that legal migrants can claim more rights than undocumented workers, it operates on the principle that all migrants are entitled to a minimum degree of protection.

The Brussels-based December 18 organisation works for the promotion and protection of migrant rights worldwide. It is currently running an online petition asking the 27 EU Member States to ratify the Migrant Workers Convention. You can sign the petition here. More information can also be found here.

Earlier this year, MRCI launched the Campaign for the Right to Change Employer calling on the government to give workers in the employment permit system the right to freely change employer. The current employment permit system binds a worker to one employer. Below is a video which describes the kind of exploitation this system allows for.