The Politics of Labour

by Deena Al Shatti

The UNDP estimates that there are nearly 200 million migrant workers worldwide. Migrant workers often leave their home countries to gain employment in other, more developed countries. Their reasons for migration are varied, but the vast majority move in order to send money home to their families – the World Bank estimates that foreign workers sent over $300 billion back to their home countries in 2008 alone.

However, it is not always a glossy picture. According to the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by the U.S. Department of State, only 16% of countries worldwide are considered to be “Tier 1” – that is, countries who’s governments fully comply with the minimum standards set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Most countries in the world do not comply, and, what is worse, are the countries where a majority of migrant workers live and work. Workers in these countries often face a variety of issues, including the holding of passports, unpaid wages and abuse.

There is increasing pressure to implement changes in international labor policies and standards. Most countries have only taken a few first steps – laws may be in place, but they are not enforced stringently enough. For these problems to be solved, governments worldwide need to step up to the challenge. There has been a lot of talk on how to change the way migrant workers are treated, but not much has actually been implemented – and what has been implemented has been done on a very small scale.

In order for change to take place, collaboration must occur. While local governments should enforce rules and laws that are already in place, they must also impose harsher penalties on those who break the law. Workers who have been victimized, whether it is from abuse or from non-payment, should not be treated as if they were in the wrong, which often happens.

Home governments should also get involved and take action. For example, the Indian, Philippines and Bangladeshi governments have imposed a minimum wage for their workers in the Middle East. Of the three, the Philippines embassy has been the most aggressive, running programs to educate citizens of their rights and ensuring that they are paid their proper wages.

These small steps are just the beginning – if there is to be a strong change, the governments must take stronger actions. Collaboration is essential as well, as this is a cross-country issue.

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