Some 200 people from the Kisauni neighborhood in Mombasa, Kenya, took part in a forum on migrant worker rights Saturday, where those who had gone abroad for work described the harsh conditions they endured and how the labor brokers who signed them up often lied about the wages they would receive and the type of work they would do.
The July 22 forum was the second in a series sponsored by long-time Solidarity Center partner, the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), and two local migrant worker and anti-human trafficking organizations, TRACE Kenya, Haki Africa and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
In Kenya, where 2.5 million people toil in irregular, precarious jobs compared with 900,000 in the formal sector, many workers are unable to support their families and so become targets for the labor brokers who haunt villages, towns and cities.
KUDHEIHA organizers went door to door to encourage Mvita residents to attend the forum on migrant worker rights. Credit: Solidarity Center/Deddeh Tulay
Unscrupulous labor brokers will promise higher wages than what workers will be paid, describe working conditions far less grueling than reality, and do not show workers their contracts until they are at the airport or bus station. Frequently, the contracts are written in Arabic or a language the workers cannot understand, and the contracts may even change after they arrive at their destinations.
Although many workers in and around the Mombasa area travel abroad for jobs, primarily to Arab Gulf countries, customs or embarrassment may prevent them from sharing their experiences, and many residents do not have access to credible information on migration. As a result, communities are unaware of the hazards involved in migrating for work, says KUDHEIHA Organizing Secretary Teresa Wabuko.
“Village elders are shocked at how many people from their area have left for work. Information is important to convey to them so they understand the problem,” says Wabuko.
KUDHEIHA, which has long organized domestic workers throughout Kenya and has won national legislation improving domestic workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions, recently launched the campaign in Mombasa to reach domestic workers before they migrate and after they return.
Credit; Solidarity Center/Deddeh Tulay
In setting up the forums, KUDHEIHA met with village elders, youth and local government officials. The village elders and other grassroots leaders took ownership of the programs, assisting in mobilizing their communities and speaking at the forums.
“These are issues affecting their sisters, these are issues affecting their brothers, their family,” says Wabuko. “To learn from them the best way to carry out the whole exercise successfully.”
Before the event, KUDHEIHA organizers went door to door to provide people with information about the forum and invite them to join.
“Accomplishing gains for domestic workers [in Kenya] seemed impossible, but it was done,” says Livingstone Abukho, KUDHEIHA Mombasa chairman. “Therefore, it can be done for migrant workers.”
Sok Rathana, 19, has been a domestic worker in Cambodia for two years, working 100 hours a month for $70 while attending high school. Her family is poor, and her mother also is a domestic worker.
As in many countries, domestic workers in Cambodia are not covered by labor laws and so have no minimum wage, safety and health protections or other basic employment benefits.
As Sok says, “I don’t think I have full rights as a domestic worker.”
Workers across Brazil launched a 24-hour general strike today, sparked by proposed legislation that would weaken labor regulations and force many Brazilians to work years longer before drawing a pension. Workers are protesting the government’s plans to remove all restrictions on outsourcing, impose drastic cuts on pensions, salaries and social security and dismantle labor rights, including provisions on vacations, overtime and working hours.
Workers protest pension cuts with signs saying, “No one should have to work until they die death.” Credit: CUT
“A small cabal of immensely wealthy business people are the only beneficiaries of what is in effect a scorched-earth economic policy involving a huge transfer of wealth to Brazil’s oligarchs,” says Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
More than 14 million Brazilians are unemployed and the country is in recession, even as nearly a third of President Michel Temer’s cabinet and congressional allies are under investigation, part of a widening corruption scandal that has revealed massive levels of graft at the top of government.
“We are making the biggest general strike in Brazil’s recent history to respond to the biggest attack on social, labor and social security rights that the working class has suffered,” says Claudir Nespolo, president of the Central Workers Union (CUT) in Rio Grande do Sul. CUT is Brazil’s biggest labor confederation and one of several federations that spearheaded the strike.
Unions and their members shut down the subway, train and bus in Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Salvador and Recife, and have partially paralyzed public transport in other major cities like Belo Horizonte and Rio.
Workers, Unions Targeted in Proposed Laws
Public transport staff, bankers, teachers and hundreds of thousands of other workers took to the streets two days after the lower house of Congress passed reforms Wednesday to reduce labor costs and erode the power of unions. The legislation is now in the Senate.
Luiza Batista, president of the National federation of Domestic Workers in Brazil, says the new labor reforms “will be awful” for domestic workers.
“A worker may have a contract with an employer that requires her an hour of work a day, or two hours a day, and her salary will not pay anything,” says Batista. “Employers take advantage of the workers’ needs, knowing their difficulties, to offer inhuman wages and hours of work.”
CUT President Vagner Freitas says the drastic cuts to worker rights are not about saving money but rather an attempt to weaken the trade union movement.
What the government wants to do is ensure “workers do not have a formal contract, so they do not have a clear and legal professional category and therefore have difficulty having a union that protects them,” says Freitas.
Next week, a special congressional commission is due to begin voting on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the pension system. A survey published last month found that 72 percent of Brazilians opposed the pension reform.
Workers who migrate to other countries for jobs often do not know their rights when they arrive, and many, like domestic workers, toil in isolation, where they are easily exploited by employers.
Rosalie Ewengue, a domestic worker in Morocco from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was among them. But after taking part in an awareness-raising campaign with Afrique Culture Maroc, she learned about her rights in the country and on the job, including how to apply for legal status—and now helps other domestic workers do the same.
Working with the Collectif des Travailleurs Migrants au Maroc (Morocco Migrant Workers Organization), in partnership with the Solidarity Center, Rosalie is reaching out to migrant domestic workers across Morocco.
Rosalie’s story is the latest personal narrative on the Solidarity Center Workers Equality Forum. The online, interactive Equality Forum connects working people and amplifies their voices by enabling them to share their stories, joys, struggles and strategies to better their lives and livelihoods.
Find out more about Rosalie’s story here and meet other workers from around the world, including Lwin Lwin Mar, a Burmese garment worker, and Sam Oliver, a union shop steward working on a Liberian rubber plantation.
Hi, I am Rosalie Ewengue, I am Congolese. I have worked as a domestic worker in Morocco for eight years, and have been an undocumented migrant worker for six years. I participated in an awareness-raising campaign with the Afrique Culture Maroc and Solidarity Center that focused on the issues facing undocumented migrant workers, and I tried to encourage undocumented women migrant workers to approach the regularization office and register themselves. That’s how I became an activist and a member of Collectif des Travailleurs Migrants au Maroc (Morocco Migrant Workers Organization).
In 2015, and always with Solidarity Center’s partnership, we launched an awareness-raising campaign focused on domestic workers. The goal was to identify the domestic workers and to learn more about their status and working conditions.