Migrant Workers Vulnerable, Exploited Across the Globe

From the moment Yani arrived in Malaysia for her job as a domestic worker, she toiled for a solid year with no break. Her day started at 4 a.m. and went long into the night, seven days a week, as she cleaned and took care of her employer’s child. Yani eventually became too ill to work, and her employer sent her back to her labor agent in Indonesia. The agent deducted two months’ salary from Yani to pay for her trip back home and abandoned Yani at a port, ill with hepatitis and far from her home. When Yani eventually made it to her village, she had $1 left, just enough for a plate of rice.

Yani is one of 400,000 workers from the Indonesian archipelago who leave their homes every year in search of jobs to support themselves and their families. Globally, up to 100 million people are working outside their home countries, nearly half of them women. Migrant workers contribute to the economies of their host countries, and the remittances they send home help to boost the economies of their countries of origin. Yet migrant workers often enjoy little social protection and are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. Many, like Yani, also are exploited by unscrupulous labor agents.

Today, International Migrant Workers Day, shines a light on the plight of migrant workers. Many toil in domestic work, in agrculture, manufacturing and the service sector. But as several upcoming world sporting events highlight, these high-profile competitions often are built on the backs of poor and vulnerable workers, particularly migrant workers and especially those working in construction.

Currently three countries are preparing for major global sporting events—and workers in all three countries have experienced worker rights violations.

  • Workers from impoverished Brazilian states who traveled to Saõ Paulo to work on an airport expansion project in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup faced “slave-like” conditions, according to a recent government investigation. The 111 workers, including six ethnic Pankaruru indians, were living in poor accommodations near the building site and some had paid more than $220 to secure a job.
  • More than 80 migrant construction workers in Qatar who worked for nearly a year without pay on an office tower in Dohat are facing serious food shortages and need urgent government assistance, according to an Amnesty International report released today. The 60 Nepalese workers as well as migrants from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nigeria, China and Bangladesh, have been fitting out the 38th and 39th floors of a building dubbed “Qatar’s Home of Football” because football-related organizations have offices there.
  • Russia’s new law migrant labor law gives employers free rein on how to employ migrant workers without consideration of labor standards. Russian media reports have cited that the “FIFA Law” contravenes the country’s Constitution. Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup.

The Solidarity Center has partnered with workers, trade unions, governments and civil society coalitions around the world to create community and workplace-based safe migration and counter-trafficking strategies that emphasize prevention, prosecution and protection. These steps include educating workers who plan to work abroad about labor laws and workplace rights in their origin and destination countries; promoting union-run legal aid, counseling and information centers; and helping to draft and pass improved anti-trafficking and safe migration legislation.

Follow International Migrants Day on Twitter with the hashtag #IamAMigrant.

Check out the non-profit anti-trafficking organization, ATEST.