What are the options for unions in sending countries to approach international migration?

“When the whole cycle of migrating for work is examined, it starts and finishes in the origin country. This is often where the least resources exist.”

– ILO manual, “In search of decent work”

The ILO manual, In Search of Decent Work, makes clear that the role of trade unions in source countries is both essential and challenging. In outlining concrete strategies for unions in source countries, it provides examples such as:

  • Influencing bilateral agreements to improve worker protection
  • Providing pre-departure or pre-decision briefings and “know your rights” materials
  • Collaborating with unions in destination countries to promote seamless protections and informed decision-making
  • Organizing workers prior to migration so that they can work collectively abroad
  • Establishing reciprocal union membership agreements with unions in destination countries
  • Maintaining contact with expatriate members

Promoting informed decision-making is an essential piece of empowering migrant workers, and there is much progress to be made.  In response to the survey for “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right,” 36% of respondents report not being informed of the legal rights afforded them in their destination country. Unions can and have played an important role in addressing this information gap. For example, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers. Under this partnership, PSLINK has been accredited as a provider of Pre-Employment Orientation Seminars. These seminars help workers who are considering migrating abroad make informed decisions, focusing on migration realities and workers’ rights. In another example, the Barbados teachers union distributed pocket copies of the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol to teachers who were setting off to work abroad. These pocket versions of the Protocol were designed and printed by the National Union of Teachers (UK), as part of their commitment to cross-border collaboration with source countries. 

In addition to these important efforts, many teachers unions play an important role in helping migrant teachers to reintegrate into the domestic workforce after teaching abroad. In the EI teacher migration survey, 13% of respondents who had returned home had difficulty re-entering the workforce. Unions in countries experiencing a repatriation of teachers have many important issues to consider regarding their seniority and retirement benefits, among other issues. 

In assessing strategies used by various source countries to improve the protections for their workers abroad, Gordon (2009) concludes that without a cross-border component, these efforts are unlikely to be successful: “no matter how creative or active an origin country is in the protection of migrant workers’ rights, there are limits to what it can achieve without the active cooperation of the destination country. Not only do destination countries hold most of the bargaining power, but it is on destination country territory that labour violations occur and it is destination country laws and legal institutions that are largely used to remedy them.” This assessment underscores how vital cross-border union collaboration is to ensuring adequate worker protections. Indeed, the most promising strategies for shoring up labour rights are not bilateral, but rather multilateral or regional, where there is a greater potential to establish a solid baseline for a cluster of nations by removing some elements of competition between and among them.

Finally, it is important that unions in countries that are losing teachers help document the impact on the quality of public education services and build a body of evidence to challenge the notion that remittances alone can compensate for out-migration of highly qualified teachers. 

Has your union undertaken any activities to support its member who have decided to teach abroad? If so, please, join the Community to share your initiatives with others.


Gordon, Jennifer (2009), Towards Transnational Labor Citizenship: Restructuring Labor Migration to Reinforce Workers' Rights. Fordham Law School.