Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Webb, R 2010, 'Work is a human right: seeking asylum, seeking employment', in A Hayes & R Mason (eds), Migrant security 2010: refereed proceedings of the national symposium: citizenship and social inclusion in a transnational era, Giabal and Jarowair lands, 15-16 July, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Qld., pp. 215-225.

The paper is reproduced here with the kind permission of the editors, USQ.

Peer Reviewed



This paper argues matters of rights and of belonging in the relationship between forced migration and paid work. It explores the significance of work in social identity and the imperative that this be recognised in meeting the dispossessed. It draws on historical and current knowledge to explore labour market movement responses to refugees' need for work. The argument derives from observations on threatened peoples‘ mobility and the dignity of labour as a human rights challenge. While forced / voluntary migration is one political consequence of war, another is the associated loss of work opportunity that threatens individual economic survival and social well-being. Residents of conflict zones have their capacity to work diminished or denied: any subsequent forced migration exacerbates that loss. As affiliates of the ILO, national trade union movements have obligations to facilitate refugees' access to a new comunity, through work. Loss and alienation can be addressed where local labour movements acknowledge refugees as equal workers. However, union roles in this regard have been historically negative as well as positive. Similarly with governments: despite obligations under Articles 17-19 of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, policy may ignore the humanitarian need to facilitate employment for people granted asylum. Hence the critical and ongoing insecurity of forced migration is intensified at point of integration to the 'host' nation-state.