Tuesday, May 7, 2013

International Workers’ Day: Migrants’ labor rights should not be compromised in times of economic crisis

International Workers’ Day: Migrants’ labor rights should not be compromised in times of economic crisis 
BRUSSELS, 1 May 2013 – As the world is tuned into the tragedy that occurred on 24 April 2013, when more than 360 low-wage workers died in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building which supplies big name retailers around the world, another horrific incident took place a week before in the European Union, when 28 Bangladeshi migrant workers were shot and severely injured during a pay dispute on a strawberry plantation in Manolada, Greece. These extreme incidents reveal the wider problem of an economic model which relies on cheap, exploitable labour and disrespect of legislation which safeguards fair working conditions.

On the occasion of International Workers' Day commemorating the historic struggle of workers throughout the world, PICUM calls on the EU and its member states to enforce policies which ensure the labor rights of all workers, including migrant workers with irregular status. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 90 percent of international migration is linked to work and employment opportunities. Yet the world of work is essentially a place where migrants are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking.

As several EU member states are experiencing the effects of a severe economic crisis, migrant workers in these countries are increasingly facing inhumane living conditions and a worsening of their labor rights. In Cyprus, where lawmakers have just approved a multi-billion euro bailout agreement and where unemployment remains at about 14%, migrant workers are continuously hired, often in an irregular situation and predominantly for low skilled labour in the agricultural, construction and domestic work sectors. According to official data, about 23.3 percent of the country’s workforce is foreign.

PICUM’s new report Migrants and the Right to Equal Treatment in Cyprus outlines the discrimination, abuse and restrictive policy frameworks which push migrant workers into irregularity and exploitative conditions. The report is the result of an international workshop co-organised by PICUM, KISA - Action for Equality, Support and Antiracism, the Office of the Commissioner of Administration (Ombudsman) of the Republic of Cyprus, the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, the Office of the European Parliament in Cyprus, Association Europeenne pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (AEDH) and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) in Nicosia, Cyprus on 21 November 2012.
Doros Polykarpou, Executive Director of KISA – Action for Equality, Support and Antiracism, explains how labour exploitation is rooted in Cyprus’ migration framework: “A migration model has been developed which offers only temporary work permits and only when no Cypriot is available to do the job. Excessive power was given to employers since the residence permit was directly linked with the work permit and migrant workers had no rights to social and welfare benefits during their four-year visa. This temporary based migration model has created an inexorable conflict of interests between the Cypriot state, EU regulations and obligations, and human rights conventions.”

Cyprus has transposed the EU Employer Sanctions Directive (Directive 2009/52/EC), which sets penalties for employers who hire irregular migrants. The directive also foresees measures to enable irregular migrant workers to claim back payments from their employers. To ensure proper implementation of this directive, Cypriot authorities should ensure that workers do not lose their status or are faced with deportation if they complain about violations of their contracts and other abuse. A transparent recruitment mechanism and extension of residence permits beyond the current four year limit should also be put in place.

PICUM’s report also recommends the development and implementation of a new migration policy in Cyprus, which would consider the existing realities of migration today beyond the existing model of ´temporary´ migration and which would protect the rights of all migrants. The report further recommends setting up an informed, transparent and rights-based labour migration system that would enable Cyprus to comply with its obligations under international and regional human rights law such as the EU Directives on Race Equality and Employment Equality. Moreover, migrants should have equal access to social benefits and should not face barriers to participate socially and politically to guarantee fair working conditions.


PICUM - the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, is a non-governmental international organisation (NGO) that promotes respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants within Europe. PICUM provides a direct link between the grassroots level, where undocumented migrants' experience is most visible, and the European level, where policies relating to them are deliberated. PICUM provides regular recommendations and expertise to policy makers and institutions of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and at EU level. In 2009, PICUM was awarded participatory status with the Council of Europe.

Undocumentary is a web documentary on the daily realities faced by undocumented migrants living in Europe, telling stories of those on the frontline (undocumented migrants, NGOs, professionals, and public authorities). Through a wide range of multimedia tools – videos, photos, text and info graphics – viewers can acquire a comprehensive understanding of different aspects of irregularity. Click here to watch the part on fair working conditions.
Media Contact
Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber
Communications Officer
+32 2 210 1780

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