An estimated 998,000 African migrants entered South Africa between 2011 and 2015, says Mondli Hlatshwayo, coordinator with the Center for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, where he researches community and trade union education, especially strengthening and building grassroots social justice formations.
But although labor migration from Africa has historically been a male-dominated phenomenon, the pattern has changed significantly in recent decades.
“African women are leaving their countries of birth to create new lives elsewhere. Economic opportunities are primarily available in child care,” and domestic work, he says.
Speaking this morning at the first day of the Solidarity Center conference on fair labor migration, Hlatshwayo provided a detailed overview of migration flows in southern Africa, especially what he describes as the “feminization of migration,” a key focus of the January 25–27 conference’s opening day.
Nearly half of all migrant workers are women, with the feminization of migration increasing in Africa over the past few decades as women seek to support their families. Yet “the situation is worse for women immigrants” who face exploitation based on their sex, he says.
Hlatshwayo described the experience of Pamela Khumalo, a woman migrant worker working in South Africa’s early childhood development sector, who described both her struggle and her courage:
“We have to persevere. Resilience keeps us going. We have to survive against all odds and that has to do with the fact that there are no job and economic opportunities in Zimbabwe. We survive violence on the way to South Africa, because we are looking for work.”
Read Hlatshwayo’s full presentation here.
The respect and dignity of labor migrants is under increasing threat, says Kassahun Follo, first vice president, International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, as migrant workers are demonized and denied basic rights, actions driven by exploitation, racism and xenophobia.
Follo spoke this morning at the opening of the January 25–27 Solidarity Center conference, “Achieving Fair Migration: Roles of African Trade Unions and Their Partners” in Johannesburg, South Africa, where more than 120 union leaders, migrant worker rights advocates and top international human rights officials from nearly two dozen countries and 57 organizations are gathering to share strategies for empowering migrant workers and map out plans for changing policies and laws to provide migrant workers fundamental workplace rights.
(Follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag FairMigration and check out Solidarity Center on Facebook for regular updates.)
Conference Seeks to ‘Put an End to Employer Abuse of Migrant Workers’
The conference’s opening day focused on the feminization of migration, the varied challenges of migration flows at the region=al level in East, Southern and West Africas, and the global threats of xenophobia and discrimination against migrant, included a discussion with migrant domestic workers.
The conference goal, says Peter Hardie, Solidarity Center country program director, is to “create concrete plans, multilateral and bilateral dialogue to drive change to put a permanent end to the abuses of migrant workers by their employers.”
Worldwide, some 150 million people have traveled across borders and are right now migrant workers in another country and send home global remittances totaling $601 billion dollars. In Africa, 34 million workers are migrants — the majority moving across borders to search for decent work. Half of migrant workers are women, who are especially targeted for abuse and exploitation, often due to their marginalization in the informal economy.
“Making sure working people have the right to form trade unions is the heart and soul of our work,” Credit: Solidarity Center/Evidence Holdings
Although labor migration fuels the world economy, it takes place in a global economy set up entirely on the belief that the free movement of capital and profit across borders is desirable, even sacrosanct; and that lack of regulation is what is needed to make this happen.
“Yet there has been no commensurate systemic expansion of the rights of the working people to go along with the incredible expansion of the rights of business. In fact, the opposite has occurred,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader Blau, speaking during the conference opening plenary.
Bader-Blau urged participants to build national, cross-border and global coalitions to advance human rights in trade agreements and regional economic integration programs, work harder together to end the double standard of investor rights over worker rights and hold governments accountable to the creation of decent work at home “so migration is truly a choice.”
“Making sure working people have the right to form trade unions is the heart and soul of our work,” says Bader-Blau. The conference must look at how unions “make sure migrant workers have these rights.”
Read Bader-Blau’s full speech here.
Decent work, living wages, safe workplaces–these are some of the goals the Solidarity Center envisions for all workers around the world and for which it strives as the largest U.S.-based international worker rights organization, says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau in a recent interview.
Speaking on “Human Rights Heroes,” a podcast sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Labor Affairs, Bader-Blau pointed to broad-based human rights workers can achieve when they join together in unions or associations.
“Just in the past 50 years, we can see that every major transition to democracy has had trade unions front and center.”
In Morocco, the Solidarity Center supported more than 1,000 agricultural workers, many with limited literacy and the majority women, who came together to form their first union in export agriculture.
“They sat down with employers they had always been intimidated by and negotiated fair wages, decent work and dignity for the first time,” says Bader-Blau. The workers now have full-time employment, fair wages and safer jobs.
Speaking with podcast host Sarah Fox, outgoing special representative for international labor affairs, Bader-Blau also discussed the landmark freedom of association report produced in October by United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai; the scourge of human trafficking for labor and forced labor; and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 8 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
Despite economic growth and reduction of poverty in recent years, says Bader-Blau, “we’ve seen an expansion of inequality within states and between states.”
But with Goal 8, “we will be able to create through good employment the ability to have fair economies and more just societies, when workers every day can go to work and know they will get paid what they are owed and won’t face indignities at work and that they will make family supporting wages.”
Listen to the full podcast here.
A new International Labor Organization report raises concerns about the ability of the global economy to generate sufficient jobs, improve the quality of employment and ensure that the gains of growth are shared.
“World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2017,” finds that disappointing economic growth predicts high unemployment and decent work deficits, including an increase in precarious work. It projects global unemployment to increase by 3.4 million workers in 2017, bringing total global unemployment to more than 201 million people.
In addition, the report’s authors warn that vulnerable employment and working poverty will remain pervasive, and that limited job opportunities and rising social discontent will continue to fuel growing rates of migration. Nearly half of workers in Southern Asia and nearly two-thirds of workers in sub-Saharan Africa were living in extreme or moderate working poverty in 2016.
In other findings:
- Deterioration of labor market conditions will be most severe in emerging countries, while chronic, poor-quality, employment will remain center stage in developing countries.
- The number of workers in vulnerable forms of employment will remain above 42 percent of total employment this year, or 1.4 billion worldwide—including almost four in five workers in developing countries. The two regions most affected will be Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Reductions in working poverty are slowing, endangering the prospects for eradicating poverty as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Gender disparities in labor market opportunities will persist, with vulnerable forms of employment continuing to be consistently higher for women across Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States. Meanwhile, the gender gap in hourly wages—which reaches as high as 40 per cent in some developing countries—will persist despite improvements in equal pay legislation.
Recommendations in the report include that measures addressing the causes of stagnation and structural impediments to growth be placed at the forefront of policy agendas, and that policy be focused on how to overcome structural impediments to growth—including inequality.
As the report finds: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are … key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.”
Read the full report here.
The Solidarity Center warns that the broad crackdown on garment workers, union leaders and worker rights activists in Bangladesh marks a troubling escalation of efforts to silence garment workers and criminalize their fundamental rights to organize, speak to power and improve their lives and livelihoods.
In a new briefing document, the Solidarity Center outlines the intimidation, arrests and firings that followed a garment worker walk-out in December. It calls on the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to stop the intimidation campaign; respect workers’ legal right to unionize and bargain with employers; negotiate with unions that represent workers’ interests; and raise the garment-sector minimum wage.
Since 2012, the Solidarity Center has recorded hundreds of cases of unfair labor practices, including physical attacks on union leaders, organizers and pro-union workers (and/or their families); kidnappings; threats of death and/or rape; false criminal charges; mass termination; stolen personal property; coercion; harassment; forced signing of “white papers,” that effectively increase production targets; and withholding of access to factory facilities and property (e.g., toilet, elevator).
In 2013, Bangladesh raised the minimum wage for garment workers to $68 a month, the lowest among garment workers in the region. For example, in China it is $265/month; Indonesia, $220; Vietnam, $131; India, $128; and Cambodia, $100. Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, is the 71st costliest city in the world, in line with Montreal, Canada.
The Bangladesh garment sector produces clothing for export, primarily to the United States and Europe. It employs nearly 5 million workers, the majority of them women.
You can defend Bangladesh garment organizers and worker-activists as they help workers who toil in unsafe factories for unfair—or unpaid—wages and who, without a union, cannot exercise their rights.