Migrant Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy
Thursday September 2nd 2010 International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, UK
This one-day seminar, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was the second in the Middlesex University series examining emerging issues of global labour regulation. More than 50 delegates drawn from migrant worker groups, NGOs, trade unions, employers and academia attended the seminar at the International Slavery Museum (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/) on Liverpool’s dockside on Thursday September 2nd 2010.
The seminar welcomed an introduction to the International Slavery Museum by its Director, Dr. Richard Benjamin. Richard stressed that the Museum encouraged contemporary exhibits and was very pleased to engage with academics and practitioners in such a seminar. The seminar was then divided into two sessions. The first, thematic session, examined alternative perspectives on migrant workers rights. The second session presented case studies from different world regions.
Aidan McQuade (Director of Anti-Slavery International) presented an overview of forced labour, child labour, slavery and migration today. In doing so, he emphasised that various forms of forced labour are still prevalent, with estimates of between 12.3 and 27 million people in slavery, almost half of whom are children. Debt bondage is the most common form of slavery, while trafficking of people is prevalent in Europe, involving 2.4 million trafficked individuals globally. Aidan stressed that slavery still is justified by its supporters on ideological grounds, with a claim that enslaved people are ‘naturally inferior’. Slavery does not end with increased wealth, but continues despite it, going hand-in-hand with prejudice.
Professor Joshua Castellino (Law Department, Middlesex University) – then introduced a session on ‘A Rights Based Approach to Migration’ (A Human Rights Based Approach ppt.). Joshua re-emphasised the indivisibility of human rights and argued the difficulties of state engagement with undocumented workers, when to make such contact might well lead to deportation. The remedy to such a dilemma was to fix a violation or sanction against employers or Governments who abused migrant worker rights. However, at the supra-national level only the World Trade Organisation could act a a law enforcer, but this was only for trade disagreements between individual states.
Svetlana Boincean (International Union of Food, Farm and Hotel Workers ) spoke of the difficulties (and some successes) of organising migrant workers in the agriculture sector across Europe and Asian states of the former Soviet Union. Within Europe migrant workers are often ‘tiered’ by country of origin within their workplace, raising additionanal issues of discrimination and segmentation.
( see http://www.iufdocuments.org/www/documents/IUFmigrantworkersmanual-e.pdf and www.iuf.org/wdacl.)
Heather Connolly (Warwick University) and Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio (Manchester University) introduced a session on Welfare Systems, Social Inclusion and Migrant Worker-Union Relations in the EU (Migrant rights MMLHC). They focused on the contrasting treatment of migrant workers that may be expected in differing welfare regimes (Spain, Germany, UK) within Western Europe as well as the discourse of ‘vulnerability’ as it applies to migrant workers. While the term ‘vulnerable workers’ is useful for trade unions to capture all aspects of precariousness including that of migrant work, there remains a danger that the term obscures the specific problems of migrant workers.
Nick McGeehan (director of Mafiwasta www.mafiwasta.com , an organisation for migrant workers in the Gulf) introduced the case study of The Enslavement of Migrant Workers in the Arabian Gulf’. (ppt.). Nick is a former oil worker in the Gulf and he described the indifference of Gulf State regimes and other Governments to abuse of migrant workers within the region. A particularly harrowing tale related to the ‘camel jockeys, who were small children from the Indian sub-continent trafficked in order to race camels for the pleasure of elite groups within the region.
Steve Craig (UCATT building workers’ union, UK) – introduced the campaign and practical activities undertaken by the building workers’ union in the UK to protect and integrate migrant workers. In his talk he stressed the importance of using the ‘vulnerable’ concept with unions, as it enabled them to develop solidarity between home-based workers and migrant workers. The seminar also heard from Paul Amann, who described in detail the work of Liverpool’s New Communities project in working with newly arrived migrants to the city. Paul stressed the need to find ways of welcoming migrant workers through innovative ways which can act to involve migrants fully in the life of the city (Working with New Communities in Liverpool)
In addition the seminar discussed case study representations from migrant worker activists in
• Ireland, introduced by Professor Paul Stewart (Strathclyde University) and Brian Garvey (Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre and Independent Workers’ Union) and focusing on the interaction between sectarianism, racism and migrant workers in Belfast.
• The problems of migrant workers in the Veneto area of ‘Third Italy’ were introduced by Professor Richard Croucher (Middlesex University) based on work by Devvi Sacchetto (Padua University). Integration of migrant workers was difficult, especially given state and political vilification from right wing political parties. However, some optimism was apparent, as workers from Italy and abroad begun to integrate themselves both inside and outside the workplace. (Veneto ppt.)
For further information about the seminar please contact Professor Martin Upchurch (email@example.com) at Middlesex University, London.