Selina Begum’s son has been missing at sea since he migrated for work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Mushfique Wadud
Selina Begum, 60, traveled from Bangladesh’s northeast Narshindi district to Dhaka, the capital, for one reason, she says: “I want to know the whereabouts of my son.”
Selina’s son, Taizul Islam Rakib, 22, is among the thousands of workers and their families who have migrated overseas to find jobs. Selina says she glimpsed her son in a television news story on the plight of migrants abandoned on boats, but has not heard from him.
Over the weekend, Selina joined dozens of those with missing loved ones in a human chain in downtown Dhaka, where they carried signs, “Punish the trafficking traders,” and held a press conference demanding the government take action. They were joined by repatriated victims of human trafficking like Abdur Rahman, 40, who was rescued from Malaysia and returned to Bangladesh.
“I did not get anything to eat for 22 days and just survived by eating tree leaves,” Abdur said, describing his journey to Malaysia.” “I never thought I would survive.”
Fulmoti, 35, has been waiting for a phone call from her husband Faruk Hossain, 40, who set out for Malaysia by sea on April 14. “My morning starts with the hope that my husband would phone me, but every night I go to bed feeling hopeless,” says Fulmoti, a mother of two.
The event was organized by 19 labor and human rights organizations, including the Solidarity Center and its allies, the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS), the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF). The coalition issued a joint statement urging governments in origin and destination countries to take immediate action to repatriate migrants and punish traffickers.
Speaking at the event, Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of WARBE Development Foundation, a Bangladesh emigrant rights group, said that the immediate repatriation of trafficking victims should be governments’ first priority. In addition, said Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, assistant executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, the government must take action against the leaders of trafficking chains.
The event stems from a decision by members of WARBE, the Bangladeshi Ovhibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA) and Solidarity Center to work together in raising the issue of trafficked migrants. The group is asking the Bangladesh government to take steps to repatriate trafficking victims and rehabilitate them; demanding prosecution of traffickers; and urging the government to work with other concerned governments to prevent stop criminal trafficking.
Construction unions and migrant workers met this week in Costa Rica. Photo coursesy of BWI.
This week, eight construction union federation from six South and Central American countries came together in Costa Rica to focus on migrant workers and the issues they face in order to help migrants working in construction to organize and to improve union capacity to expand worker rights for migrant and native workers alike.
The seminar, jointly assembled by the Solidarity Center and Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), allowed union representatives the opportunity to present best practices for organizing migrant workers and to speak directly with Nicaraguan day laborers who also are active members of the Costa Rican BWI affiliate, SUNTRACS. Union leaders heard firsthand accounts of the daily challenges that Nicaraguan migrants face on the job and in Costa Rican society in general, where discrimination—including denial of treatment by the national health service for work-related injuries and receiving salaries that are below the national minimum wage—is a fact of life.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 5 million people currently live and work in Latin American countries other than those in which they were born. Once a phenomenon almost exclusively restricted to developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere, positive trends in economic growth and job creation have converted numerous Latin American countries—such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica—into attractive destinations for migrant workers over the last decade. Nonetheless, the promise of decent employment in these countries in sectors including construction, domestic work and agroindustry has remained elusive, particularly for workers without solid knowledge of their own labor rights enshrined by national law and international norms.
On a regional level, BWI and its affiliates have helped migrant workers obtain legal migratory status and advocated for more transparent national immigration policies. Most importantly, they have organized protest actions against insecure work environments, long working hours and wage irregularities for migrant workers.
BWI has seen positive results from its outreach efforts to migrant workers. “Objective economic conditions in Latin America have given new life to construction unions in the Southern Cone. The current construction boom in Brazil, for example, parallels what we saw in countries like the United States and Spain before the 2008 economic crisis,” said Nilton Freitas, BWI regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Using this new leverage and employing better forms of cooperation among our affiliates, we now are in a more advantageous position to prevent migrant workers from being treated as second-class citizens in the construction sector in those countries.”
The Solidarity Center and Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) have been working together over the last three years to promote innovative policies to improve union outreach and organization of migrant workers in the civil construction sector in Latin America. BWI’s pioneering role in the defense of immigrants who have sacrificed all to construct soccer stadiums in Brazil, skyscrapers in Singapore and offshore oil rigs in the Arabian Gulf was recently recognized by the AFL-CIO as the 2014 recipient of its prestigious George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award.
Haitian migrant worker in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Solidarity Center.
This week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Washington, D.C. One of the cases the commission will hear regards the Dominican Republic’s September 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that retroactively strips individuals who are unable to prove their parents’ regular migration status of their citizenship.
A new AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center report describes what this could mean for the people who will be disproportionately affected—individuals of Haitian descent living and working in the Dominican Republic, including those born in the country.
Those targeted by the court’s ruling will be excluded from any activity that requires official identification, including working in the formal sector, attending school, opening a bank account, paying into retirement or social security funds, accessing health services, getting married, traveling or voting. For many women, men and children born in the Dominican Republic, the ruling means being barred from participating in the only society they have ever known.
In the report, Dominicans of Haitian descent describe their struggle to maintain their status, pursue higher education, seek opportunities for meaningful work and career advancement, obtain justice against abusive employers and ensure their children are recognized as citizens and have access to critical services.
This deliberate creation of a stateless underclass is an egregious abuse of fundamental human rights and a clear violation of international law.
The AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center are committed to working with their union partners in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and overseas to ensure that all workers and their families in the Dominican Republic have full protection of their human and labor rights. The organizations call on the Dominican Republic to comply with its international obligations and ensure that Dominicans of foreign descent can fully and freely participate in society.
As workers around the world celebrated International Labor Day at the beginning of May, more than 500 migrant workers on the Thai-Burmese border took collective action to demand that their employer improve wages and working conditions in a garment factory where they were earning less than 25 cents per hour for an 11-hour shift, according to reports. As a result of their two-day strike, the workers succeeded in doubling their wages and winning important gains in workplace conditions.
More than 2 million migrants, mainly from Burma, are working in Thailand, according to the International Labor Organization. These workers, among the most vulnerable in Thai society, have no legal right to form a union. Often lacking legal work permits, they are exploited, and their basic human and worker rights under domestic Thai laws and international labor standards are constantly violated. Non-governmental organizations such as the Human Rights and Development Foundation’s (HRDF) Labor Law Clinic—a Solidarity Center partner located in Mae Sot on the Burmese border—provide a safe haven for migrant workers struggling for justice and help them organize in the face of such harsh conditions. HRDF and its community-based organization, the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs (JACBA), have long played a role in helping empower migrant workers to win justice against employers who seek to abuse workers’ rights in favor of the corporate bottom line.
The garment workers had been protesting their conditions for nearly a month: their wages were less than half the legal daily minimum wage, they were forced to work under filthy conditions, and they had no clean water or doors in the employee restrooms. On May 1, International Labor Day, they decided to take action the following morning. The LLC and JACBA helped the workers file a petition to the authorities and provided technical support after they went on strike. Following extensive negotiations with worker representatives, factory managers—seeing their profits dwindle with every day the strike endured—agreed to dramatically raise wages for both daily and piece work, shorten work shifts, and improve workplace conditions.