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AUTHOR: Cristina Patriarca
This brief has been developed with the aim of providing an overview of the problem of wage theft and
highlight the urgent need to address it, putting an end to its perpetration and stopping condoning the
impunity of those who exercise it. Among others, the document raises the attention to the need of
creating an international justice mechanism that enables the rapid processing of migrant workers’ wage
theft claims and ensures they are returned the money they are owed as soon as possible.
Whilst the problem of wage theft is a long-standing global issue, this document has been developed
bearing in mind the experiences of low-wage1 migrant workers, documented and undocumented, and
the need to address the cases of wage theft for returned migrant workers in particular: on the one hand
returned migrant workers have suffered both the loss of employment and the non-payment of their
salaries and dues; on the other, they are especially exposed to the projected economic instability and
low prospects or re-employment resulting from the ongoing pandemic.
This brief opens with a definition of wage theft, followed by its contextualisation in relation to the
human rights framework and key international conventions and an overview of the link between wage
theft and global development. In the subsequent pages the discussion is centred on the recent
exacerbation of the problem due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of ensuring justice for
migrant workers. Before discussing actions needed, and presenting a set of recommendations, the
relation between wage theft, remittances as well as the impact of the shrinking of the global economy
on migrant workers is touched upon.
This brief is based on the thought-provoking panel discussion Transitional Justice: Towards “Building
Back Better”, and the insights of the panellists as well as the contributions of the attendees. It also
draws from the ongoing campaign calling for the creation of an international justice mechanism to
address wage theft of repatriated migrant workers.

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In this paper, the term low-wage is preferred to low-skilled, an important distinction as the two are not synonymous. Lowwage occupations, which include jobs in the agriculture, health, hospitality and construction sectors may in fact require a high
degree of skills to handle complex situations and specialist tasks. Besides, the use of the term low-skilled may confer a negative
connotation to the abilities of migrant workers, despite the fact that many of the so defined low-skilled jobs have increasingly
been recognised as key roles for the functioning of society, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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