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HRW: Collective push for migrants rights

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

South Asian countries should leverage their countries’ collective bargaining power to seek protection for their migrant workers in the Gulf, the international research and advocacy NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in a letter to the SAARC secretary general.

In the letter, made public today on the occasion of International Migrants’ Day, Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW urged South Asian governments to “join forces to press for reforms to end the terrible abuses against migrant workers that have gone on for far too long,” and that “Gulf countries should recognise the crucial role foreign workers play in their economies and take measures to ensure their rights are fully respected.”

Upto 1,500 Nepalis leave everyday for overseas labour, after taking up huge debts to pay their agents, with no training for the work they will be expected to do. The situation is worse for domestic workers, almost exclusively women, who are isolated in private homes and subject to exploitation and abuse.

In light of the deaths of hundreds of South Asian migrant workers in Qatar and news reports of the appalling conditions migrant workers have to live and work in, the letter urges SAARC member countries to push the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to:

• End the exclusion of domestic workers and other classes of migrant workers from key protections in their national labour laws, and ensure that contracts, recruitment practices, and other conditions comply with standards in ILO Convention No. 189;

• Enforce the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment of migrant workers;

• Reform of the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system by allowing workers to change jobs or return to their country without requiring employer consent, regardless of how long they have worked for that employer, and repeal employers’ power to cancel workers’ visas.

• Ensure safe and decent working and living conditions, such as regular payment of wages and no confiscation of passports, including by significantly increasing the number and training of labor inspectors, and imposing deterrent sanctions on violators.

• Improve and facilitate migrant workers’ access to judicial remedies and credible grievance mechanisms without fear of recrimination or dismissal, and by making competent translation and legal assistance available.

• Enforce national anti-trafficking laws to ensure prosecution of employers and recruitment agents involved in the forced labor of migrant workers.

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