The United Nations 1990 international convention aimed at protecting the rights of migrant workers all over the world has been signed by countries such as Sri Lanka, Ghana and Mexico, but the West continues to avoid signing the treaty. Why is this?

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been urging Western countries to ratify the 1990 international convention to protect migrant workers and their families. Countries like Sir Lanka, Ghana and Mexico has ratified the treaty which came into force in July 2003, but countries such as the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy continue to avoid signing the treaty. To uncover the reason why Western countries refuse to protect migrant workers is to reveal the sinister machinations of the Western capitalist countries.

Since the dawn of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the birth of modern industrialisation Western capitalism has been founded on the exploitation of cheap human labour. Pitting worker against worker and race against race has been a common strategy used by those who own the means of production to divide the majority of workers against each other while they profited from cheap labour.

The tactics used today by modern capitalists have not changed much. Migrant workers are used to fill gaps in industries and do the work that the indigenous populations refuse to do. Migrant workers are preferred by companies because they can be paid less and health and safety laws do not have to be applied to protect them. They are in effect an invisible slave labour force used by Western governments to boost their economy.

Author and freelance journalist, Jeremy Seabrook, said in his article titled, “Inside the global lock-up” in October 2000 that immigrant workers “…are required now in Britain to keep the cost of labour down and to avoid wage-led inflation.”

The key point in this article is that immigrant workers are used by British companies to keep wages down, yet in the mainstream media this type of information is not shared with the general public.

A Trades Union Congress report in December 2007 stated, “Research conducted for DEFRA in 2004, produced estimates of foreign national workers supplied via agencies in UK agriculture and horticulture and this estimated that 66% of such workers were foreign nationals, compared with 34% who were UK nationals.”

The report also states how migrant workers are exploited by agencies, and often work in sectors or occupations where health and safety is poor and where they are paid below minimum wage.

Sectors such as cleaning, hotel work and caring is dominated by Eastern Europeans and Africans. There is generally no sick pay or paid holidays and workers are not paid overtime for extra work that they do. This is the reality of modern Western capitalism.

Journalist James Parks spoke of similar exploitative conditions for migrant workers in the United States. He said, “Many countries around the world, including the United States, depend on immigrant labor to boost economic development, but do not protect the rights of their immigrant workers.” (Today’s Workplace: James Parks: November 17)

In the United States, child care, care for the elderly, cooking and cleaning is mostly done by migrant workers, without them the United States would crumble as a society yet they are the victims of racism and extremely poor working conditions without protection from labour laws.

In Britain, overseas nurses play an essential role in the National Health Service. Senior lecturer and nurse Julia Nichols said, “If overseas nurses chose to leave the UK in large numbers, health services could face a severe staffing shortage.” (Medical News Today:  15 October, 2010)

Migrant workers look after the elderly, take care of the sick, keep the streets tidy and provide many of the comforts people receive in hotels and the service industry in general. Despite this they often suffer racism from European populations, they are made to work in exploitive conditions and they have no working rights worthy to speak of.

On the Inter Press News (IPS) website, Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that during national recessions the local population blame migrants for taking their jobs even when they would not do the job themselves. (IPS: Thalif Deen: December 14, 2010) She also said that there has been a rise in xenophobia in Western Europe since the economic crises.

While local white populations vent their anger and frustration against the immigrant communities they fail to see that major companies are really pulling the strings regarding the national and international economy. We are all victims of this sophisticated manipulation regardless of where we are from and the colour of our skin, while the mainstream media fuels the fires of community division with racially inflammatory stories.

The West cannot afford to sign an equality treaty for migrant workers simply because their economies are built on the exploitation of workers. Immigrant populations are a useful tool that governments use to blame for local problems in the run up to an election. Immigrants are a useful scapegoat to blame for a country’s economic problems, for rising crime, a strain on public services etc. Racism is just too useful a divisive tool for governments and major companies to even consider signing a treaty to provide equality for migrant workers.

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