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Migrant health care workers at greatest risk

17 December 2021

graphic of health worker

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 duties.

This is the conclusion of new research led by the OU's Professor Nicola Yeates and carried out in collaboration with Public Services International (PSI), the global federation of trade unions representing 30 million public service health workers across 154 countries.

It is the first research to attempt an estimate of how many migrant health care workers worldwide have died with Covid-19.

Researchers surveyed 40 PSI-affiliated trade unions in 32 countries worldwide, including the UK. Results show:

  • severe negative impacts on migrant health care workers' rights, reported by four in five trade unions. Of most concern are 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 contacts and employment insecurity
  • an increase in violence and harassment targeted at migrant health care workers, reported by one in three unions
  • migrant health workers only get unpaid sick leave, even when they are infected with Covid-19, one in four unions reported
  • The researchers calculate that, up to October 2021, some 36,000 health workers worldwide have died of COVID-19.

The research calls for action at national and global level to strengthen the rights of migrant health and social care workers.

'Truly shocking'

Professor Yeates said that while all frontline health workers have risked infection and death while carrying out their duties during the pandemic, the greater risks faced by migrant workers are 'truly shocking'. "No-one should have to endure such avoidable impacts on their health and wellbeing."

She said the research provides evidence to support 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.

"Saturday 18 December is International Migrants' Day and 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."

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