[m2c] Migrant Workers: Slaves Of The Twenty-First Century
sandinista at shaw.ca
Sun Aug 5 01:23:21 MDT 2007
Migrant Workers: Slaves Of The Twenty-First Century
By Abdol Moghset Bani Kamal
03 August, 2007
As soon as Murad Bux arrived, his 13-year-old son and 17-year-old
daughter were introduced to him. He hugged them and wept. He was a
servant of an Arab Shaikh in Qatar and his master had allowed him to
visit his family after 12 years for a duration of two months. When he
was asked how his life had gone in Qatar. His reply was: “For me, each
day has been as long as a year. As if the time was hanged and the
globe had stopped revolving around the sun”.
This is the story of thousands of Pakistani migrant workers in the
Arab Sheikhdoms. Most of them are illiterate with some exceptions.
Although, holding a degree does not count much, because, these
migrants, whatever be their qualification, are eager to undertake a
job as inferior as that of dishwasher. Thanks to Arab Shaiks, at least
they have an indiscriminate attitude towards the migrants as far as
their academic qualification is concerned. For them, all are migrants,
who ought to be blessed to breath in the air of Arab soil.
Beside the unwritten agreement of “Representation without taxation
never; and taxation without representation never” it seems that there
is another agreement of this nature between the wealthy citizens of
the Arab Shaikhdoms including Saudi Arabia and their rulers: “No
rights for migrant workers.”
They are clever enough in accepting foreign workers instead of natives
and know very well that these migrants do not have any voice at all.
They silently accept and digest what comes to them from their masters.
There is a simple package of punishment for them if they protest:
“Imprisonment for a limited time and then their deportation to home
countries” or better to say “Throwing them again in to the well of
The world has been striving against slavery for more than one century.
It has been successful in elimination of the traditional form of
slavery, but, in practice slavery still does exist under changed skins
and migrant workers in Arab countries are good examples in this
As matter of fact, slavery is not an easy phenomenon that can be
disbanded through legislation on the paper; it is a mind-set which
rules over the behavior. The Shaikh of 21st century behave with a
migrant in a way and with an attitude that his ancestor used to
approach a black slave a century back. The difference between the two
is that, the old slave was forcibly enslaved while the new slave takes
risk, borrow money and voluntarily go there to be enslaved. The former
was enslaved because of his weakness and the later gets himself
enslaved because he is poor and hungry.
The United Arab Emirates, GCC countries (including Bahrain, Kuwait,
Qatar and Oman) and Saudi Arabia have become important hubs of MNCs
during last few decades. The process of globalization and the
corporate mode of economy has accelerated the tendency of working over
there; therefore, thousands of workers ranging from India and Pakistan
to Russia and Philippine as well as other European and African
countries are pouring into those countries. They are underprivileged
people that form one side have been disappointed to find livelihoods
in their own countries and on the other side, are inspired by high
value currencies of those states.
With growing number of migrant workers and huge inflow of home
remittances their importance in international political economy is
gradually being increased. It can be measured by the World Bank’s
recent report according to that, remittances are the largest source of
external finance for developing countries, exceeding the amount they
receive in foreign direct investment or foreign aid every year. For
instance, Pakistan received a record $5.49 billion as workers’
remittances during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year
against 4.6 billion of Foreign Direct Invest (FDI).
Some countries such as India are looking the process as an opportunity
and are making efforts to exploit it positively for poverty reduction
and economic vulnerability. They encourage their citizens to work
overseas and send remittance. Moreover, they are developing
institution as well as laws to protect the rights of their migrant
citizens in their respective host countries.
In 2006 the Indian government announced new welfare initiatives for
its migrant workers according to them a smart card would be issued to
all Indian emigrant workers for their identification. They would get
life insurance as well as medical insurance that could be used for
emergency treatment abroad. They will also get a cover to fight legal
cases in their working countries.
Further more, the Indian migrant workers are being provided with
prerogatives and special privileges. Recently the Indian government
passed a law which says that any government employee can go and work
abroad while his or her job would be reserved with full payment.
The Indian law makers, as far as the aforementioned law is concerned,
kept two factors in their mind. First, a person working overseas would
send remittance, which would help for maintaining balance of payment.
Second, a vacancy will be created and consequently would be filled
with some one else on the doll.
Although Pakistani migrants have a long existence in the Gulf
countries, they are among the most vulnerable workers. Most of them
work under harsh conditions in order to make an earning to the extent
of nourishing their children or more optimistically to construct a
four-wall for them. Worse than that, their conditions are going from
bad to worse due to oversupply of skilled, better trained, and cheaper
human resource. However, there are some internal factors responsible
for their misery:
· Pakistani workers are employed in low profile jobs such as watchmen,
gardener and cleaner because of their little education and undeveloped
· They are mostly working far away from the main cities. Perhaps they
come to the city only at the time of their departure-to and
· Pakistani government and its representatives are very careless and
apathetic towards them. A huge budget is yearly being spent by
Pakistani foreign missions in the Gulf countries under the name of
providing service to fellow citizens while it is a breath-breaking job
for Pakistani migrant workers to cross their main gates.
· Pakistani workers are not being provided with any kind of legal
support, skill development trainings and other facilities, and there
is no initiative by the government of Pakistan to make them aware of
· There are many civil society organizations campaigning for the
protection of the rights of the workers in Pakistan. They are
organizing workshops and consultations with stakeholders, conducting
research, and directly or indirectly applying pressure upon the
government for welfare of the worker class, but the migrant part of
the labour issue in Pakistan is remained intact.
Finally it is to be noted that some times there are some whisperings
highlighted in the news indicating that the government is about to set
a mechanism to regulate the huge inflow of remittances, but they
rarely talk about the senders of these remittances. There is no
initiative neither in state nor civil society level to protect these
ill-fated workers against barbaric trends of their unbridled
Abdol Moghset Bani Kamal is a research associate, in the Pakistan
Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
"Until all of us are free, the few who think they are remain tainted
with enslavement." Lee Maracle
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