find alternative employment to remain in the country while pursuing a claim against a former employer. Many dispute-resolution systems in the region also suffered from bottlenecks and case overload, meaning that time limits for mediation or judicial settlement – where set out in the legislation – could not be met. Even prior to COVID-19, court cases, whether for migrant or national workers, could drag to several years, taking into account appeals and enforcement orders. Due to COVID-19 precautions, many government departments, including courts and labour complaints departments, closed or significantly reduced their capacity to comply with social distancing requirements, causing even greater delays to dispute handling. Thus, many workers had little choice but to repatriate to their country of origin without waiting until the resolution of their case, or they never submitted a complaint, assuming that such a process would be futile. In particular, while those working for large or high-profile companies that failed to pay dozens of workers could have benefited from collective dispute investigations (conducted by the Ministry of Labour or by an embassy) or perhaps greater media scrutiny of their claims, migrants employed in small- to medium-sized enterprises, “day labourers” or domestic workers would have found achieving an expedited resolution far more challenging. With many companies in the region facing drastic cash flow issues, it is also likely that some employers would not have been in a position to provide departing migrant workers with their full end-of-service gratuity payments or benefits (which accumulate over the course of the workers’ employment) and thus negotiated only to give part of the amount owing. While Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries can be commended for having Wage Protection Systems (WPS) in place, and in some cases insurance funds to compensate workers in particular circumstances, pre‑existing limitations meant that these mechanisms were insufficient to address the full scale of the problem. In the case of the WPS, non-compliance in wage payment is essentially addressed through employer sanction, but not necessarily worker compensation. Additionally, WPS do not cover migrant domestic workers, who in several GCC countries, comprise more than 25 per cent of total employment. Additionally, gaps in the WPS include the fact that the systems do not address wage manipulation (miscalculation of overtime, end-of-service gratuity payment) or prevent deception by an employer who withdraws cash on behalf of the worker. 7 The scale of the challenge of ensuring that hundreds of thousands of departing migrant workers from the region are paid their wages and benefits, in circumstances where even existing channels were flawed, gave rise to a global campaign led by civil society and trade unions, to call for an urgent justice mechanism to recover the unpaid wages of repatriated migrant workers and to shed light on the urgency and vast scale of the problem. 8 2. What do international labour standards say about wages, including in a crisis context? International labour standards for protecting the wages of workers, including migrant workers, and fair labour remuneration practices are key to the ILO’s mandate. Non-payment or delayed payment of wages may also in some instances give rise to forced labour practices and a breach of fundamental principles and rights at work. 9 The Protection of Wages Convention (No. 95) and Recommendation (No. 85), 1949, are two international labour instruments dealing comprehensively with the payment of wages, and seek to ensure the fullest possible protection for workers’ remuneration. They can be considered key instruments in setting a legal framework and standards on ensuring wage protection. Specifically, these instruments identify key issues to ensure that wages are paid to all workers, including migrant workers, irrespective of their migration status, 10 in a predictable, timely and complete manner. As of May 2021, 99 countries have ratified Convention No. 95, including most recently Saudi Arabia, which ratified it in December 2020. 11 Box 1 Key principles of Convention No. 95 X X X X X X Workers shall be free to dispose of their wages as they choose. Wages shall be paid in legal tender. In cases of partial payment in kind, the value should be fair and reasonable. No unlawful deductions are permitted (right to receive wages in full). In cases of employer insolvency, wages shall enjoy a priority in the distribution of liquidated assets. Regular payment of wages, including full and swift final settlement of all wages within a reasonable time, upon termination of employment. 7 ILO, Minimum Wages and Wage Protection in the Arab States: Ensuring a Just System for National and Migrant Workers (2019). Jureidini, Ray “Wage Protection Systems and Programmes in the GCC”, in Philippe Fargues and Nasra M. Shah (eds) Migration to the Gulf: Policies in Sending and Receiving Countries, Cambridge, Gulf Migration Research and GLMM, (2018) pp. 9-32. 8 See Justice for Wage Theft campaign. 9 ILO. Ending forced labour by 2030: A review of policies and programmes. The ILO has identified 11 core operational indicators of forced labour, including the withholding of wages. 10 The ILO supervisory bodies have observed that Convention No. 95 applies to all persons to whom wages are paid or payable, irrespective of whether they have a formal employment contract, or a work permit. See Libya – Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), Observations published between 1995 and 2001, and 2013, and Libya, Individual Case (CAS) - Discussion: 1996, Publication: 83rd ILC session (1996). 11 Other countries in the region which have ratified Convention No. 95 are Iraq, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. 2

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