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Issue # 1409      6 May 2009

Migrants and refugees first workers to be sacked in a recession

Migrante Australia and PAUL [Philippine – Australia Union Links] held a forum on the impact of the global financial crisis on migrant workers and refugees in Sydney last week. The following is a joint statement from the organisations.

Temporary migrants have no defence against being sacked and no safety net to rely on. The overseas qualifications of migrant workers and refugees are not recognised or are de-valued in the host country, and it is more difficult for them to find new employment.

They often work in menial or lesser positions as temporary workers. Australia and other developed countries design temporary worker schemes as “flexible” – for the employer. These workers are dependant on sponsoring employers. Employers can sack temporary migrants knowing they will be forced to leave the country when they cannot find alternative employment. It is hard for workers to raise unlawful dismissal or claims for entitlements from overseas.

Desperate workers will accept cuts in wages, hours and conditions just to hang on to jobs. The temporary worker has paid large sums to agents and lenders in their home country, and cannot afford to return home until they have paid these debts off.

Workers have left their families and countries to work overseas because they cannot get employment at home. The family relies on the worker’s income from temporary employment overseas. The home countries are also suffering through the financial crisis. Unemployment is even higher. Any safety net such as social security or private charity is reduced. Returning temporary migrant workers join the pool of unemployed in their home country.

The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) reports some examples of the above trends. Fifty thousands foreign workers are expected to lose their jobs in Singapore. Already by December 2008, 6,707 migrant workers were sacked in Korea.

In Malaysia, 6,000 migrant workers were terminated in September 2008. Job losses have been reported from the Middle East, North America, Europe and Australia. “No work, no pay” provisions have been enforced, subjecting temporary foreign workers to financial hardship. The news service of ABS-CBN Television (Manila, Philippines) carried a report on April 23 that 27 Filipino temporary skilled workers in Dalby, Queensland were put on seven weeks leave without pay, but given an allowance of $350 per week as a loan they had to repay.

Refugees have endured hardship and oppression in their home country, before facing the difficulties of beginning life in a strange, foreign land. With their qualifications not recognised, or lost during flight, refugees find it hard to enter the workforce, or to find jobs at their level of experience and qualification at home.

Adjustments issues take up a lot of time and energy of refugee families. Sadly, some employers exploit the vulnerability of refugees by paying them low wages, and forcing them to accept breaches of employment conditions. Like temporary migrant workers, refugees are often the first to be sacked. But the refugee does not have a country to return to. Instead they rely on the safety net of social security, their refugee community and charity. Social security laws have the most onerous compliance requirements and stiff penalties and even jail terms for breaches.

IMA reports heightened harassment of refugees in Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States, and rising controversy in Australia as the numbers of boat arrivals from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan rise.

Permanent skilled migrants share problems of recognition of qualifications and skills, discrimination in employment, dependence and financial insecurity as the temporary migrant worker and the refugee.

They are also among the first to be sacked. They are subject to a two-year waiting period for the social security safety net and are especially vulnerable to lay-offs and cuts to wages and conditions.

The cause of the present crisis is the failed global economic policy promoted by the United States, other developed nations and transnational business leaders through the ideology of neo-liberal globalisation. This ideology promoted trade and investment liberalisation, privatisation of public assets, deregulation of financial markets and lifting of social safeguards regarding the exploitation of the workers, women, children and the environment; and the denationalisation of the underdeveloped economies.

Across the globe, the incomes of working people have been driven down, and their working and living conditions worsened. Any social safety net was destroyed in country after country.

This same ideology promoted the export of labour to provide a cheap and compliant labour force in industrialised nations. Migrants and refugees became an exploited underclass in the host countries. Unprincipled employers and politicians sought to pit local workers against migrant workers and refugees to drive wages and conditions down.

Now migrant workers are surplus to need they are driven back to their countries of origin where they face the weak economic and gutted social safety nets produced by the failed neo-liberal global economic policy. These same countries are dependent on repatriated wages from exported labour – a source now fast declining. The exported labourers return to home countries in crisis.

Refugees and migrants workers thus become victims of the neo-liberal ideology thrice over.

Labour exporting countries have too often repressed the legitimate movements and protests against neo-liberalism and its privations.

Migrant workers and refugees call for just wages and support for workers and their family at levels matching that given to big banks and failed businesses such as the US car makers. The IMA and local affiliates are strengthening their cooperation and alliances with local workers in host countries and back to their counties of origin.

Any move to implement neo-liberal policies of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation will be vigorously opposed. Migrant workers also call for the abrogation of all neo-liberal multilateral and bilateral trade agreements that are the basis for labour export under exploitative terms.

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