Labor Rights Groups Launch ‘Coalition on Labor Justice for Migrants in the Gulf’


GENEVA– Leading labor rights organizations, migrant rights organizations, and independent trade unions today announced the launch of the Coalition on Labor Justice for Migrants in the Gulf, the first-ever global labor coalition to demand fundamental labor and human rights for the millions of migrant workers in the Gulf region. 

There are at least 31 million migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and with global south economies stressed by climate change, more can be expected. Even as they are integral to the functioning of economic and social life, these workers have almost no access to legal or governmental mechanisms to exercise their fundamental rights as workers – particularly those employed in domestic work. Civil society and trade unions in GCC countries also have very limited ability to advocate for the rights of migrant workers. 

This urgent labor rights crisis requires united, direct action and a number of organizations have come together to build a global solidarity coalition. Led by Global Labor Justice, Anti-Slavery International, Equidem, the International Domestic Workers Federation, and the Solidarity Center, the Coalition is calling for governments and employers to respect the fundamental human and labor rights of migrant workers in the GCC throughout their recruitment, migration, employment, and return home. At its official launch today, migrant workers shared their experiences and how they are fighting for their rights despite the obstacles to organizing they face. 

The Coalition is calling on NGOs, governments and global corporations to use their power in the global economy to demand GCC countries to respect the fundamental rights of migrant workers, including the right to form and join unions and collectively bargain for fair wages and conditions.    

The Coalition’s initial focus is on migrant workers employed in domestic work, hospitality, and construction sectors in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. Some of the cross-cutting issues workers face, documented by the Coalition, include workplace violence, unpaid wages, occupational safety risks due to the impacts of climate change, and exploitative recruitment practices in contexts where worker organizing is repressed, employers have impunity, and workers lack avenues to access justice.  

The legal reforms GCC countries have made are superficial and have not led to substantive change for workers in practice. Workers employed in construction and hotels at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar reported significant violations to their fundamental labor rights without remedy. Kuwaiti law states that migrant domestic workers are entitled to one day off per week, yet over 55 percent of domestic workers reported not being allowed to leave the house on their day off, if they are even granted a day off at all. 

The Coalition is the first global labor group of its kind that brings together advocates across the GCC, origin countries, and supply chain countries in pursuit of labor justice for migrant workers. 

Bringing together workers, unions, and NGOs, the Coalition will generate transnational solidarity and global pressure to ensure that the needs, rights, and dignity of migrant workers are guaranteed and respected, from recruitment in countries of origin through employment in the GCC countries.

The Coalition will support workers in their fight for freedom of association, access to justice and remedy, freedom of movement, separation between immigration laws and labor laws, employer accountability, among other key demands. It will also stand in solidarity with the women migrant workers fighting against gender-based violence and harassment (GVBH). This year marks the 5 year anniversary of ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention and while significant progress has been made to fight GVBH, workers are still fighting for gender equality in the workplace. 

“Migrant workers are the backbone of so many sectors in the global economy, and in the Gulf region, this is particularly true. These workers are fighting for their rights despite legal and social systems that systematically try to deny them the right to organize and bargain for fair pay and dignity. Global Labor Justice is proud to be a part of this exciting transnational coalition that brings together powerful labor advocates to support these courageous workers and their organizations and ensure that migrant workers' labor and human rights are protected and respected across migration corridors," said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global Labor Justice.

“Everyone deserves to be able to move freely and enjoy decent work. And we know that when migrant workers are treated with dignity and enjoy decent working conditions, everyone wins. That’s why we are thrilled to support the launch of this Coalition. Now is the time for change and to shift to a different model based on the respect of migrant workers’ rights. We call upon governments, international organizations, and businesses to step up and take the necessary actions to create a fairer labor system and eradicate the root causes that enable forced labor and human trafficking to exist,” said Jasmine O’Connor OBE, CEO of Anti-Slavery International.

"United, we will be able to address the International Domestic Workers’ Federation’s top priorities for migrant domestic workers in the region: eradicating the kafala system; ensuring access to justice; promoting freedom of association and freedom of movement; advocating for access to benefits and services; fostering social dialogue; and equal labor rights. The coalition is important to advocate for migrant workers’ rights in the Gulf because they don’t have unions, and they can be punished if they speak up. Especially domestic workers, who are isolated in the employers’ houses and need support from allies and labor activists to fight against kafala,” said Mary Ann Abunda, International Domestic Workers Federation Executive Committee member representing the MENA region and leader of the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association (SKDWA).

"The Gulf is one of the engine rooms of the global economy. That engine is powered by migrant workers, many who have been forced to leave home because climate change has made life impossible. The collision course of environmental crisis and patterns of corporations putting profits over people has brought the global community to a pivotal moment for human rights.  One of the fiercest fronts of this fight is in the Gulf. Solidarity and the belief that the struggle for equality and dignity for all humanity must be fought together is one of the core tenets of Equidem’s founding principles. We are thrilled to join this unified coalition,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem.

"No worker should have to abandon their rights and dignity at the border. Yet they often face systems of exploitation and legal barriers to earning the wages they are promised and working in a healthy and safe environment. Their struggle is complicated because they are also denied freedom of association, specifically the opportunity to form the unions or worker organizations that could advocate on their behalf. This Coalition will support these workers' efforts and aspirations for fairness, recognition and respect," said Neha Misra, Global Lead for Migration and Forced Labor at the Solidarity Center. 




The Coalition on Labor Justice for Migrants in the Gulf is a newly formed coalition of international human and labor rights organizations, migrant rights organizations, and independent trade unions. It is calling for governments and employers to respect the agency of migrant workers in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to exercise their fundamental human and labor rights throughout recruitment, migration, employment, and return.