Report of Activities on the 28th September - Day of Action to protect Guest Workers declared by the UITBB
Following the call launched by the Trades Union International of Workers in the Building, Wood and Building Materials Industries UITBB at the 5th Regional Meeting of Construction Workers’ Unions held in February 2007 in Manila, a DAY of PROTEST for the protection of guest workers was widely observed in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region.
In this connection, it must noted that in several countries affiliated unions of the Building and Wood International (BWI), with the cooperation of the BWI leadership, joined the Day of Protest and organized a series of events to stop the exploitation of migrant workers.
Thanks to this common action and despite the limitations imposed by emergency laws in Bangladesh and Pakistan, for instance, one can say that this action made it possible to raise awareness and to mobilize large numbers of building workers and their unions across the region.
We publish hereunder the reports as they have been sent to our Secretariat. These reports testify of a great variety of activities, but above all they clearly indicate that much more resolute action of the national, regional and international trade union movement is needed to achieve the implementation of basic rights for guest workers.
This report has been forwarded to the International Labour Organisation.
Marches and Rallies were organised by the local branches of the CFMEU Construction and General Workers Division in Sydney, Canberra (see photos on UITBB website: www.uitbb.org
The Pakistan Brick Kiln Labour Union organized 6 meetings in the different cities of Pakistan on 28th September 2007
These meetings were organized in
- GUJRAT (under the chair of Pirzada Imtiaz Syed, Secretary General of PBKLU)
- Gujranwala under the chair of Mr. Rana Ayub Ali Khan (Advocate) Deputy General Secretary of PBKLU,
- Mandi Baha-U-Din, under chair of Mr. Haji Muhammad Inayat Sabri, President of PBKLU,
- Multan under chair of Mr. Mussawar Hussain Naqvi, Senior Vice President of PBKLU
- Bahawalpur under the chair of Mr. Mujahid Hussain Kazmi, Provincial president of PBKLU, province Punjab,
- Bhawalnagar, the said meeting was presided by Mr. Nizam – Ud- Din Gujjar, provincial secretary of PBKLU province Punjab.
The Pakistan Brick Kiln Labour Union had announced workers’ rallies, but due to the critical political situation the government of Pakistan imposed a ban on all kind of rallies, demonstrations, open meetings, etc.
The speakers at the meetings stated that “A foreign worker is a person who works in a country other than the one of which he is a citizen. There are 230 millions people living in a country where they were not born, about 3 % of the world population and more than double the figure recorded in 1980. Guest workers are classed as foreigners, who do not hold citizenship of any country except their own country. In addition there are 102 million people on the move across international boundaries, one of every 60 human beings. Most of this cross-border migration is not a matter of free choice and people are being forced to move for many different reasons, war, persecution, civil conflict, hunger, poverty, environment and failed economies.
Mr. Pirzada Imtiaz Syed said that Globalisation (rapid technological change and intense market competition) has escalated economic or labour migration. There are more than 44.6 million guest workers. This does not include the millions of illegal immigrants, many of them desperate and vulnerable and exposed to abuse and exploitation. He said that Guest workers provide a mobile and highly flexible workforce. While some educated, qualified guest workers fill skilled jobs, the great majority enter low skilled, or unskilled jobs in areas such as agricultural work and food packing, where work is low paid and often temporary. He said that migrant or guest workers face many obstacles while trying to establish themselves in their host country. Migration and migrants have a negative image. Media attention focuses on issues such as undocumented migrants, the criminal activities of traffickers and smugglers, and on the problems of integration of immigrants with the local population. Public perceptions are a mixture of real issues and problems, but also of fear, ignorance and prejudice. Because guest workers are denied entitlement to non contributory benefits in the first place. Migration is a major political issue, both for mainstream and extremist parties. Guest workers are used as scapegoats, particularly when the economy takes a downturn .Mr. Pirzada added that there has been a rise in violence against migrants, and those of Muslim and / or Arab origin are widely regarded as a threat to social stability.
Mandi Baha –u- Din:
Mr. Sabri, president of PBKLU, said while he was addressing the meeting in Mandi Baha-U-Din that some times a host country sets up a program in order to invite guest workers, as did the Federal Republic of Germany from 1955 till 1973, when over one million of guest workers were attracted, mostly from Italy, Spain, Turkey and Pakistan. He said that according to a rough estimate the total number of international foreign workers stands at about 27.3 millions, with a comparable number of dependents accompanying them. About 14 million of these, including 4 or 5 million undocumented workers, are working in the USA, which draws most of its immigrants from Mexico, North and Western Europe about 5.2 million; Japan about half a million; and Saudi Arabia about 5 million.
Mr. Mujahid Kazmi, Provincial President of PBKLU ( Punjab ), in this speech to the meetin in Bahawalpur said that sometimes, citizens of countries with heavily urbanized areas have migrated to more agrarian countries in order to find jobs as farmers and alike.
He added that in certain less tolerant nations, foreign workers may be abused and treated as second class citizen by the government and / or because of the lack of unions to assert worker rights. For instance, in many Asian nations, it is not uncommon for employers to withhold passports from their employees, thus preventing the foreign worker from returning home. The practice of withholding salaries is meant to put the foreign workers in very difficult situation, because the laws of these countries typically do not support foreigners in practice. There are numerous organisations existing in United Kingdom aiming at protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers.
Mr. Nizam-Ud-Din Gujjar stated during his address in Bhawalnagar, that there are many Pakistani migrant workers in European countries and United States of America, those working on the land, in food packing factories and in restaurants, hotels etc.Despite their legal status some guest workers are exploited by gang masters and live in poor conditions. They can have difficulty in accessing public services, including health and education, banking and insurance. Many guest workers have experienced direct or indirect discrimination, prejudice and racism.
Mr. Rana Ayub Ali Khan (counselor) Deputy General Secretary of PBKLU, was the main speaker in Gujranwala Meeting. In his address to the participants of the meeting he said that Guest workers benefit host countries in a number of ways.They make a positive net contribution to public accounts. An International Labour Organisation (ILO) study in 2004 showed that in the absence of their contribution, either public service would have to be cut or taxes raised.
Mr. Mussawar Naqvi said that the Migrant / guest workers bring skills, qualifications and youthful enthusiasm to an ageing working population. 29 % of guest workers hold higher education qualifications,
1: Build close working relationship with trade unions overseas, with exchange programs to develop greater understanding of migration issues, and develop capacity building schemes to assist trade unions in sending countries.
2: Encourage reciprocal union membership through signed passport agreements.
3: Develop a common strategy on guest workers with international and national trade unions.
4: Work closely with organisations working with guest workers, asylum seekers and refugees.
5: Arrange Education and training courses for guest workers.
6: Help immigrant / guest workers to become trade union activists.
7; Trade unions to arrange seminars, workshops, conferences to raise guest workers’ awareness.
8: Trade Unions to inform immigrants / guest workers of their rights (Medical treatment, Social Security, Education for their children, and insurance etc.
A one (1) day seminar was held to mark the Day of Action for the protection of guest workers.
The seminar was attended by 50 TUPAS union members whose wives, husbands or children are working overseas.
Participants agreed that such an Action Day should be observed yearly and that protest actions and demonstrations should be continued. The Seminat counted with the participation of scholars who briefed on the subject.
A statement on Guest Workers’ Day: 28th September, 2007 by the Jatiya Nirman Sramik Federation (JNSF), National Federation of Construction Workers.
Today is Guest Workers’ Day. The day was declared as such from the UITBB 5th Asia-Pacific Meeting of Building and Building Materials Unions in the month of February this year in Manila, Philippines. The day is being observed by Building Workers’ Unions in many of the capitals of Asia and the Pacific Region.
Bangladesh is a country which at present earns the highest percentage of its foreign currency through the export of manpower. At the present point of time near about four million Bangladeshis are working abroad.
A vast majority of them are construction workers and they are working mainly in the middle-eastern and South-East Asian countries. Those who go abroad with a short term employment contract are named as guest workers. These migrant workers are in general subjected to the crudest form of exploitation through discriminatory practices in the host countries in respect of wages, hours of work, holidays with pay, minimum age for employment, occupational safety and health measures, social security measures and welfare facilities.
Levels of employment in the sending countries, skills and educational levels of migrant workers, sector of employment, recruitment processes, provisions of labour laws of the host countries, irregular conditions of migration and trafficking etc. determine the treatment towards the migrants or guest workers in the recipient countries.
Ignorance of the rights and privileges to be enjoyed by migrants and of the obligations of recipient countries often add to the misfortune endured. Moreover, in a foreign land migrant workers often face racial and xenophobic attitudes towards them from the native workers. According to the 1998 ILO Declaration, though all member sates of the organisation, whether they have ratified the concerned Conventions or not, have the obligation to respect, promote and materialise the principles of freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour and the elimination of all forms of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, the reality still remains far removed from the principles.
In Bangladesh there is a Ministry called the Ministry of Labour and Employment which bears the full responsibility of formulating policies and implementing them in respect of overseas employment. Under the Ministry there is the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) to provide institutional arrangements for the purpose. With regard to manpower export BMET’s activities constitute only 10% of its total activities. As a whole the Government’s role in this regard is unfortunately very insufficient though manpower export stands out to be the biggest source of foreign currency income for Bangladesh. A striking instance is the Government’s failure to respond properly and duly in respect to the recent case of dispute over wages of one hundred or more workers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Against this backdrop the initiative taken by UITBB to draw attention through appropriate activities like demonstrations, deputation, rallies etc. of its affiliates across Asia and the Pacific Region to the problems faced by guest workers and to uphold and defend their rights is of paramount significance.
But unfortunately we in Bangladesh are passing our days in a state of Emergency Rule which prohibits any kind of Trade Union activity. Even an indoor programme on this day was not permitted. However, we observe this day with a small function in an indoor meting where our Members were present (see picture). Our district unions have sent us many resolutions on this day. We also feel one and morally join our hands with our brethren elsewhere who are observing the day in a befitting manner. We earnestly hope that the action day would achieve grand success and hereby express our fullest sense of solidarity with the struggle to realize the cause of guest workers the world over. Victory to the working class movement!
Actions conducted by AICBCW on the problem of Migrant Labour.
The General Council meeting of AICBCW met on 4th, 5th September 2007 at Kerala had planned to conduct a campaign on the problem of Migrant labour as per the direction of the UITBB. AICBCW conducted 3 seminars i.e., in Chennai, Trivandrum and Bangalore on 28th September, highlighting the issues of Migrant labour both overseas and domestically.
Migrant labour in India
Overseas, India holds 3rd position. Ninety six percent workers engaged in UAE and Qatar are migrants from India. The State of Kerala leads with the highest figure of emigrants in West Asia. From Punjab State a large section of workers migrated to Canada and European countries. Globally about 20 million Indian workers are working in overseas.
Migrant workers suffer from lack of stable and durable avenues of employment. Among those workers, many are small and marginalised farmers, landless agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, casual and contract workers, engaged in various occupations in rural and urban areas of the most distressed regions of the country. Since the majority of them are migratory labour, it was decided to take up the case studies of workers from Bihar engaged as agricultural labour in Machhiwara in Punjab and rickshaw pullers in Delhi.
In the process of migration, it was also observed that women suffer more than men. They are paid less for equal work and face exploitation in various ways. The provisions of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act elaborated by the Govt of India in 1979 to regulate the employment of inter-state migrant workers do not offer much help as it does not apply to those migrants who undertake migration on their own or who migrate too far whether voluntary or sponsored within the state boundaries. Thus a significant proportion of migrants are excluded from the provisions offered by this Act.
In addition, the ISMW Act can be effective only if its Section-20 is implemented, which provides for appointment of inspectors to inspect whether provisions of this Act in relation to payment of wages, conditions of service and facilities are met. However, none of the State governments has taken any institutional measures for carrying out inspections outside States for enforcement of the Act.
Seminar on Problems of Migrant Labour
The AICBCW conducted a seminar on this problem on 28th September 2007 in Asha Nivas, Chennai. Prominent academicians, lawyers, labour officials participated.
Mr. Devaperinban, editor, gave a lecture on the problem of overseas labour. Mr. Isac Mohanlal, advocate, presented a paper on International labour act. Sri. N.R.Prasad, leading lawyer in Chennai High Court, delivered a speech on Inter-State Migrant Workers Act-1979. Professor Vincent Somaraj gave a lecture on human rights. And in the last session Prof. Bernad gave a speech on the international problems of Migrant worker.
On October 5, Japanese UITBB member unions conducted collective bargaining with the Labour Ministry about problems reagrding immigrant workers in Japan. At first the unions had also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Justice for a meeting, but they all refused it.
Currently in Japan, there are many cases of employers abusing the ” Industrial Training and Technical Internship Programs”. Due to the fact that trainees, mainly Chinese people, in this system are not considered as workers, they are not protected by any labour laws. Therefore foreign trainees are paid just 2.5 US dollars per hour, despite the fact that the legal minimum wage is around 6.0 US dollars per hour.
At the meeting with Labour Ministry, the unions denounced illegal and notorious cases involving Japanese employers and demanded the ministry to take actions such as, for example, arresting employers and connected agencies and imposing sanctions on them. Ministry officials stated that they regulate and impose penalties whenever there are confronted with illegal cases.
BWI Affiliated Unions
CSGWU of Hong Kong participated in Day of Action to Stop Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Asia Pacific Region
On September 28, the Construction Site General Workers Union (CSGWU) of Hong Kong and the Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia (TEUPM) of Malaysia conducted events on September 28 as part of the Day of Action to Stop Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Asia Pacific region. This action, which was approved at the recent BWI Asia-Pacific Regional Committee that was held earlier this month in Kathmandu, Nepal, is part of the continuous work of BWI on migrant and cross border work. In the Asia-Pacific region, BWI has migrant workers projects in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Bahrain with participation from affiliates from the Philippines, Nepal, India, and Indonesia.
The CSGWU had conducted a workshop for Nepalese Bar Bender workers who had participated in the more than 30-day Bar Bender strike. Close to 900 Bar Benders (Hong Kong natives and Nepalese migrant and immigrant) workers went on strike for an increase in wages and a guaranteed 8-hour work day. This was the first time in 30 years that workers in the construction industry went on strike. Despite initial resistance from the Bar Bender Contractors Association, in the end the strike workers were able to get a wage increase of 50 HKD and a guaranteed 8-hour work week. More importantly, all this formally agreed via a written contract—a historic first for the Bar Bender workers.
The workshop was to explain to the striking Nepali Bar Bender workers the contents of the written agreement.
Even though one of the demands during the strike was equal pay for Nepali Bar Bender workers as that of Hong Kong Bar Bender workers, unfortunately the Contractors Association did not agree to this; however, they did agree that all workers regardless of whether they were native Hong Kong or Nepali (migrant and immigrant) workers would receive the same wage increase and the guaranteed 8 hour work days and the same working conditions. According to Maswa Kajiman, a Nepali Bar Bender worker, who had participated in the strike for 30 days it appears that the agreement is being honored at the work site. Prior to the strike his wage was 680 HKD and after the strike he now receives 730 HKD. His work hours is guaranteed an 8-hour day.
The participation of the Nepali Bar Bender workers was part of the CSGWU overall project in organizing the more than 9,000 (9% of the entire work force in the construction industry) Nepali construction workers. The union hopes to launch a Nepali Construction Workers Union that will affiliate with both the CSGWU and its national center, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
In Malaysia, the TEUPM along with other members of the Emergency Taskforce on Stranded Bangladeshi Workers which includes civil society groups, migrant rights organizations, and trade unions interviewed over 70 Bangladeshi workers for three hours. These interviews were to verify the facts of the Bangladeshi migrant workers for the purpose of gaining their rightful claims from the PTC Asia Pacific, the employer of more than 500 Bangladeshi migrant workers. At least 100 Bangladeshi workers, who had fled the slavery-like working conditions of the PTC Asia Pacific owned factories and went on a hunger strike in front of the Bangladeshi High Commission office in Kuala Lumpur to protest their working conditions, not receiving wages for close to six months and to urge the Bangladeshi High Commission to assist their efforts.
According to the workers they were housed 30 to 50 in small houses until they were sent out to work. Each worker was given only 50 MYR to purchase necessary personal items and food. Clearly this was insufficient that the workers could only afford one meal per day. The workers would work on a contract basis in factories or recycling plants fro 15 to 45 days and often these workers were not provided sufficient safety and health equipment thus they were exposed to hazardous materials. Food at these factories was just as intolerable as their “home base.” On top of the horrendous conditions and treatment they faced, these workers were not paid any wages for the periods of work they had done for the PTC Asia Pacific. It should also be noted that many of these workers were “outsourced” to several sub contractors, where the conditions were just as deplorable or worse.
When the workers had sought assistance from the Bangladeshi High Commission, the High Commission called the PTC Asia Pacific management to respond to the workers allegations. The PTC Asia responded by apologizing and promising to treat workers better; however, the company locked up the workers for 20 days without providing them any work. Because of this experience, the workers refuse to work for PTC Asia and many of them want to return home.
The TEUPM along with UECI and the MTUC have joined the Emergency Task Force on Stranded Bangladeshi Workers, a broad network that was recently formed to address the thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who are being exploited by their employers and just left stranded without any jobs or recourse by recruiters and employers upon their arrival in Malaysia.
The activities in Hong Kong and Malaysia were part of other actions conducted throughout the region by BWI in cooperation with the Trade Union International of Workers in Building, Wood, Building Materials and Allied Industries (UITBB).