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FASS Academic leads first study focusing on COVID mortality impact on migrant health care workers

Graphic depicting 36,000 deaths of global health workers

As the number of international migrants climbs steadily towards 300 million people*, representing more than 3.6 of the global population, we’re taking a moment on International Migrants Day 2021 to spotlight some research showing that migrant health workers are high risk from COVID-19, highlighting some of the imbalances in global health care systems.

Professor of Social Policy, Nicola Yeates’ research focuses on global health workforces and the results of her Open University-funded research show that foreign-born health and care workers are bearing a disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and are more likely to be harmed and to die while carrying out their work duties. These are outcomes that call for action at national, regional and global levels to strengthen the rights of migrant health and social care workers to decent work and safe workplaces.

The study, carried out in collaboration with Public Services International (PSI), surveyed 40 PSI-affiliated trade unions in 32 countries worldwide, including the UK. It is the first piece of research that attempts to estimate how many migrant health care workers have died with COVID-19.

Professor Yeates notes that all frontline health workers have risked infection and death while carrying out their duties during the pandemic, but the greater risks faced by migrant workers are ‘truly shocking’: “No-one should have to endure such avoidable impacts on their health and well-being.”

The results paint a stark picture, showing severe negative impacts on migrant health care workers’ rights, reported by four in five trade unions. Most concerning is deteriorating health and wellbeing, including fatigue and burnout; and poor access – or in some cases denial of access – to safety protections such as PPE and necessary training. These problems are especially associated with short-term contracts and employment insecurity.

Also highlighted were increases in violence and harassment targeted at migrant health care workers, and the fact that migrant health workers get only unpaid sick leave, even when infected with COVID-19.

Perhaps most shocking is the finding that, up to October 2021, some 36,000 health workers worldwide have died with or of COVID-19.

Professor Yeates' research supports the actions of public service trade unions: “Our research shows that trade unions understand the nature of these risks and impacts and are defending the rights of migrant health workers on many fronts.

“Nearly half of unions responding to the PSI/OU survey are giving priority to the defence of migrant health workers’ employment rights. They have been prioritising negotiations with employers to address social security, sick leave and hazard pay, because many have no right to paid sick leave or health care, even though Covid is a significant occupational risk for this group working on the front line of care.”

In addition, Professor Yeates said: “Nearly half of unions in our survey put a priority on migrant workers’ access to PPE, and to giving migrant health and social care workers information about infection control and prevention.”

The theme of International Migrants Day 2021 is ‘Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility’. Professor Yeates is keen to reinforce the UN caveat of ‘ensuring the fundamental human rights of migrants are protected’. She concludes:

“Our research is a stark reminder of the significant contributions of migrants to the pandemic response, as well as how migrants are disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

“If the UK Government’s aspiration to ‘build back better’ is to mean anything, then tackling the disastrous impacts of the pandemic on migrant members of the health workforce must be a priority of the first order.”

Interested to read the findings in more detail? Download the factsheets below:

Fact sheet - what we know about their situation
Fact Sheet 2 - Trade Union Response to the challenges faced by migrant health and social care workers
Fact Sheet - What we know about their situation

*source International Migration Highlights 2020


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