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September 30, 2013

Many work deaths expected from a project in Qatar

The good news is that the occupational risks of international migration are becoming more visible. The bad news is that the risks are extremely high. A labor organization is forecasting thousands of work fatalities from Qatar’s building projects for the 2022 World Cup.

An article in the Guardian estimates Qatar’s migrant workforce at 1.2 million. The state has only 250,000 citizens. In the U.S. roughly 3 – 4 million foreign born workers mighte be considered migrant workers, in farming and construction.

The article:

Qatar's construction frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup is on course to cost the lives of at least 4,000 migrant workers before a ball is kicked, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has claimed.

The group has been scrutinising builders' deaths in the Gulf emirate for the past two years and said that at least half a million extra workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka are expected to flood in to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure in time for the World Cup kickoff.

The annual death toll among those working on building sites could rise to 600 a year – almost a dozen a week – unless the Doha government makes urgent reforms, it says.

The ITUC has based the estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form the bulk of Qatar's 1.2 million-strong migrant workforce, the large majority of whom are builders.

While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased – with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure – it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.

The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from 4 June-8 August this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents.

Workers described forced labour in 50C heat, employers who retain salaries for several months and passports making it impossible for them to leave and being denied free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and hunger has been reported. Thirty Nepalese construction workers took refuge in the their country's embassy and subsequently left the country, after they claimed they received no pay.

The Indian ambassador in Qatar said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year and 1,460 complained to the embassy about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.

Without changes to working practices, more workers will die building the infrastructure in the runup to the World Cup than players will take to the field, the ITUC has warned. "Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue," said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based organisation that has met the Qatari labour minister in Geneva and officials at the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, which is preparing the country for the World Cup.

"The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concominant increase in deaths.

"We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life. Everything the Guardian has found out accords with the information we have gathered from visits to Qatar and Nepal. There are harrowing testimonies from the workers in the system there. The 2022 World Cup is a very high profile event and should be implemented with the very highest standards and that is clearly not the case."

It is estimated that Qatar, the world's richest country by income per capita, is spending the equivalent of £62bn from its gas and oil wealth on building transport infrastructure, hotels, stadiums and other facilities ahead of the World Cup.

The ITUC has estimated the number of migrant workers already in Qatar at over 1.2 million and says possibly as many as 1 million more will be needed to get the country ready for the world's biggest sporting event. "Fifa needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today," said Burrow.

The ITUC's own analysis of deaths this summer appears to tally with the Guardian's investigation. It found that 32 Nepalese workers died in July, many of them young men in their 20s. "Nepal accounts for less than half the migrant workers in Qatar, and reports from other countries-of-origin indicate that similar numbers of workers from these countries are losing their lives in Qatar," Burrow said.

Asked to comment on the prediction of thousands of deaths, a spokesman for the Qatar 2022 supreme committee said on Thursday that organisers were "appalled" by the the Guardian's revelations about the deaths of Nepalese workers who travelled to the Gulf state to work.

"Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in the Guardian's report," the spokesman said. "There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar."

A leading expert in labour migration to the Gulf from south Asia warned Qatar that ill-treatment of workers would backfire because the labour forces they rely on to build their economies will start resisting.

Prof S Irudaya Rajan, chairman of the research unit on international migration at the centre for development studies in Kerala, India, said: "They need people from India and Nepal to give their hard work and they need better treatment because they are the ones building their whole economy.

"The Qataris have made them invisible in their economy but they have to make them visible. In the 21st century, labour should be treated equally to capital."

Rajan said he believed Indian workers were better treated than some others because the relatively long history of the country sending workers to the Gulf means support networks are already in place for them.

September 21, 2013

Why we must address immigrant work safety now

America is just now belatedly waking up to the reality that immigrant workers deserve far greater safety protections at work. RIsk & Insurance ran my column on this problem in its Sept.1, 2013 issue:

The rise of immigrant labor has been so incremental that it’s hard to pinpoint when the workers’ compensation community should have collectively realized that immigrant workers often pose a heightened work injury risk. But it’s clear that we are past that date.

Foreign-born workers (including legal and undocumented) comprised about one tenth of the country’s workforce in 1990. Today they amount to about 17 percent, and are much more widely distributed geographically.

Since 2000, foreign-born workers have added more bodies to the workforce than have native-born Americans. Demographers expect this trend to continue through 2020.

Many immigrants are very highly skilled. But a large share, those that are less well educated, provide manual labor that on balance is relatively injury-prone. These workers also have limited access to safer work.

Our manual workforce is thus segregated by injury risk. Pair an immigrant and a native-born worker, both doing jobs that require limited education, and statistics reveal that the foreign-born worker encounters twice the risk of work injury than the native.

I estimate from federal data that in the top 30 jobs that don’t require a high school education, immigrants sustain at least one out of every four injuries.

That’s based on an assumption that they report injuries at the same rate of native-born workers.

The immigrant worker is less inclined to have health insurance. Having health insurance is widely thought to lower work injury claims and to fund the treatment of co-morbidities which left untreated can complicate injury recovery.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act and the current version of the Senate’s Immigration Reform bill prohibit access for large numbers of non-naturalized immigrants to federally supported health insurance. That’s despite the fact they are here legally and paying taxes.

A lack of literacy in English further precludes immigrant workers from access to adequate healthcare and exposes them to a lack of understanding of safety procedures, making them even more vulnerable.
Many naturalized citizens speak their native language at home. Among non-citizens, only one tenth speak English at home. In fact, one third of non-citizen households, even after five years in the United States, fit the formal definition of being linguistically “isolated.”

We in the work safety and workers’ compensation fields have deflected the literacy problem for decades. We typically assign safety and injury response tasks to someone who speaks the worker’s native language. This induces co-workers towards learned ignorance.

Further isolating immigrant workers is fear on the part of employers of legal prosecution should they be found to harboring an illegal immigrant.

Employers fear if they are too proactive they will stumble over an undocumented worker and incur legal liability. Millions of supervisors therefore lack the education to effectively manage immigrant workers.

One positive step for employers would be to adhere to a timidly publicized OSHA requirement that “instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand.”

Another step is for medical provider networks to expect that their providers adhere to a requirement arising out of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that health professionals conduct patient encounters in the preferred language of the patient.

We have a yet more difficult step ahead. Some say we are a multi-ethnic society.

But, as with much of the world, we are moving towards a trans-national society. Millions of American residents including even naturalized citizens see themselves as members of two societies. Many of our workers are trans-nationals, not permanent immigrants per the iconic Ellis Island narrative.

To ensure work safety and injury recovery, we may need to devote a lot more attention to buying into the culture of the foreign-born workers rather than waiting for the worker to learn how to speak and act live a native

September 17, 2013

Migration of skilled workers from under-developed countries: is it harmful?

The Migration Policy Center has issued a policy paper on the brain drain problem – and says it is a more nuanced issue than commonly believed.

About one quarter of immigrants into developed countries (OECD countries) have advanced degrees.

MPI says that countries that try to restrict out-migration of talent, such as healthcare professionals, fail to achieve the gains they desire. Migration of skilled workers can and does result in reverse transfer of money, technology, and democratic ideals. Also, in developing countries, skilled workers are often under-employed. Lack of skilled labor in developing countries, MPI says, is due to “structural causes” and out-migration is not the demon it is thought to be. Laws to restrict out-migration are, MPI says, are harmful. Origin countries need to pay more attention of the use of skilled workers in government, non profit and for profit communities.

The report says that skill flow from developing to developed countries:

Seeds new industries and transfers technology,
Causes more investment of education,
Generates remittances which greatly exceeds the cost of the skilled person’s education in the originating country, and
Massively improves migrant’s opportunities.

MPI recommends “bilateral” planning to improve skill training and skill flow.

September 11, 2013

Cooperation between OSHA and Latin American consulates

OSHA has accumulated over the years many contacts with the diplomatic corps of countries from which immigrants come to the U.S. to work. Examples include numerous collaborations with the Mexican foreign service.

During Labor Rights Week, the last week of August, OSHA undertook these events in the New York area alone, for presentations on worker rights and distributed OSHA information and literature:

In New York City, at the Mexican, Columbian, Brazilian, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Honduran, Chilean, Philippine and Dominican Republic Consulates
At the Consulate of El Salvador in Long Island, N.Y.
At the Consulate of El Salvador in Elizabeth, N.J.
At the Centro Del Immigante in Staten Island, N.Y.
In Marion, N.Y. (co-sponsored with Consulate on Wheels/ Mexican Consulate /Alianza Nacional de Campesinos)
In New Brunswick, N.J. (co-sponsored with Consulate on Wheels/Mexican Consulate/Lazos Unidos de America)

September 5, 2013

Ethnic networks in Southern California

Although California’s foreign born population has stopped growing much faster relative to its native born population, is it is undeniably America's multi-cultural hotbed. Some demographers predicted that the 2010 census would report a lower foreign-born share for California than the 2000 census. This proved to be wrong. The 2000 share was 26.2%. The 2011 share was 27%. Go here for a rich array of statistics about the state’s foreign born population.

Joel Kotkin recently wrote this brief profile of Southern California:

Immigration has slowed in recent years but the decades-long surge of migration, largely from Asia and Mexico, has transformed the area into one of the most diverse in the world. More to the point, Southern California has what one can call diversity in depth, that is, huge concentrations of key immigrant populations – Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Filipino, Israeli, Russian – that are as large or larger than anywhere outside the respective homelands. Foreigners also account for many of our richest people, with five of 11 of L.A.'s wealthiest being born abroad.

These networks are critical in a place lacking a strong corporate presence. Our international connections come largely as the result of both the ethnic communities as well as our status as the largest port center in North America, which creates a market for everything from assembly of foreign-made parts to trade finance and real estate investment. Southern California may be a bit of a desert when it comes to big money-center banks, but it's home to scores of ethnic banks, mainly Korean and Chinese, but also those serving Israeli, Armenian and other groups.

For the immigrants, what appeals about Southern California is that we offer a diverse, and dispersed, array of single-family neighborhoods. Both national and local data finds immigrants increasingly flocking to suburbs. Places like the San Gabriel Valley's 626 area, Cerritos, Westminster, Garden Grove, Fullerton and, more recently, Irvine, have expanded the region's geography of ethnic enclaves.

These enclaves drive whole economies, such as Mexicans in the wholesale produce industry or the development of electronics assembly and other trade-related industry by migrants largely from Taiwan. Global ties are critical here. Korean-Americans started largely in ethnic middleman businesses, but have been moving upscale, as their children acquire education. They, in turn, have helped attract investment from South Korea's rising global corporations, including a new $200 million headquarters for Hyundai in Fountain Valley, as well as a $1 billion, 73-story new tower being built by Korean Air in downtown Los Angeles.