How can technology help to improve migrant workers' recruitment process?

On 30 March 2021, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) together with the International Labour Organization (ILO) hosted a global webinar on ‘Technology and Labour Migration - spotlight on Recruitment Advisor’.

114 participants attended the event and 585 people watched the livestream or recorded video. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, such a discussion would probably have been organized as an in-person event. While many of us may have some online meeting fatigue, we must acknowledge the benefits of being able to connect by video and how it has improved the way we work and communicate.

 

Increase in digital

For many migrant workers, the pandemic has been synonymous with an increase in digital use, as several destination countries have made contact-tracing apps mandatory for workers. In this context, the webinar offered a good opportunity to look at how technology affects labour migration and how different stakeholders are using digital technologies to improve the experience of workers looking for opportunities abroad.

The webinar focused on the specific issue of recruitment, a key aspect of any labour migration journey. Over the past decade, recruitment has been a topic of growing interest within the international community. Preventing the abuse of workers – and notably migrant workers – is one of the specific challenges that different stakeholders are trying to work on, notably within the ILO Fair Recruitment Initiative. Within the framework of this initiative, the ITUC has set up an innovative tool, the Recruitment Advisor, an online platform where workers can review recruitment agencies and access information.

The ILO FAIR II project commissioned research to examine the use of digital technology by migrant workers in several migration corridors. This research was led by the United Nations University (UNU campus in Macau. Hannah Thinyane, an academic from UNU who has worked on the Migrant Tech Research Project, shared some findings from her research: “No one technology solution can solve all migration-related problems, rather a combination of thoughtfully designed tech solutions that address specific needs are likely to make the greatest positive impact on fair recruitment.”

 

Empower and protect

Recruitment is a critical stage when migrant workers are more vulnerable to abuse.

“The Recruitment Advisor is deeply connected to the empowerment and protection of workers. It works to provide reliable information and a unique service to workers before, during and after their migration journey. Because it is working through the ITUC, this is a strategic entry point to promoting freedom of association, which is central to fair labour migration,” said ILO Programme Manager / CTA (FAIR) Gaëla Roudy Fraser.

The ITUC Director of Human & Trade Union Rights, Jeroen Beirnaert, emphasized the role of workers’ unions, a central part of ITUC work: “The key is building trust between migrant workers, trade unions and eventually other stakeholders such as employers and recruiters to really engage and work together for the common goal of fair recruitment to improve migrant workers experience during their recruitment.”

 

Use of technology

Jochem de Boer from World Employment Confederation (WEC), a voice of the private employment services industry at the global level, reminded the audience that most of the challenges we face existed prior to the use of technology: “While technology remains a tool, it is there to support people and it does not replace humans. It is something that is enhancing the way we conduct our business, our work and our lives. In that sense, it adds a dimension to the conversation we were having before about recruitment of migrant workers and its challenges that we need to resolve.”

The conversation at the webinar looked deeper at how the Recruitment Advisor is being adjusted to the needs of job seekers and migrant workers. Workers’ union from Africa (e.g. the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) in Kenya) and Asia (e.g. the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) in the Philippines & the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU)), who are partners of the Recruitment Advisor, explained how the platform came about, what services it provides and how it will evolve in the coming months to reach a larger audience and offer new services.

 

Access to information

Accurate information is the main and basic need for migrant workers when looking for a job outside their home countries.

“There is a really huge demand of workers from countries of origin who are looking for jobs in Hong Kong to have transparent information that is easily accessible, and the platform provides that,” said Peggy Shek (FADWU Hong Kong).

Jillian Roque (PSLINK) then explained that a chatbot is being developed for the Recruitment Advisor: “Through the use of a chatbot we hope to make it easier for migrant workers to submit their recruitment reviews. A lot of Filipinos use Facebook and Facebook Messenger. By deploying a chatbot in Facebook Messenger, we are making the Recruitment Advisor more accessible than a simple website.”

During the webinar, the representative from International Organisation of Employers, Rafael Bonnelly Ricart, Founder & CEO of Buskeros.com and a recruiter from STS Group also spoke about how they use technology to adapt their services and take into consideration the aspirations of workers.

Sebtain Nasser from the STS Group of Companies, Qatar, shared the practice of using  Zoom and Skype to have a direct conversation between prospective workers in origin countries and people who are already working in the company in Qatar: “They have a closed door, one-to-one conversation where they can inquire about their working and living conditions, recruitment practices and what they need to do in case they have challenges during the recruitment process.”

Ultimately, there is a shared interest for fair recruitment. Migrant workers will judge whether the recruitmentadvisor.org actually responds to their needs, and they will be able to shape its future. We will be able to draw lessons learned to see how technology can help workers who are often hard to reach and empower them with information, and we are hopeful that it can grow to become a real milestone in strengthening international solidarity and building global workers’ power.

Watch the webinar recording here.

Technology and labour migration