Touria Prayag's Blog

The uncomfortable economics of immigration

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 15, 2013

The uncomfortable economics of immigration

The dilemma of immigrant workers is becoming a live question again with the violent events which have marked this week. Because we are talking about unskilled people at the bottom of the social ladder who have left everything behind and sought refuge in our country in the hope of better tomorrows, the issue is highly emotive. It is easier to talk about exploitation and bad living conditions than to attempt to rationalise the debate. Talking about the immigrants’ duty to their host country or the implications of their recent violent actions may seem mean-spirited. But it’s important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts.

 

To start with, and without overgeneralisation, immigrant workers in this country have a slightly better ride than in most other countries. The reason is simple: they are doing jobs we are not interested in doing, too proud or too lazy to do. Many Mauritian workers would rather be unemployed than work in textile factories. For them, it’s backbreaking work for low pay. So, there is no resentment towards the hard-working, starving, nimble hands which fold our shirts. As it happens, every time these workers sneeze, thousands of Mauritians rush to attack the doctors for not treating them. If protecting the most vulnerable people of our society is commendable, here we are dealing with a different issue.

 

The incidents which the Bangladeshi workers have engaged in this week are not simply peaceful protests against their low pay or poor working conditions. They are manifestations of industrial anarchy which have set a precedent. We are talking about violent protests, picketing, attacking colleagues and setting fire to property. More than the violent acts, it is the consequences of these acts on the performance of the company which has had to close for three days, thus jeopardizing the jobs of other Bangladeshi and Mauritian workers alike which should not be tolerated. So the fact that the ring leaders were deported with no delay is understandable and is the only way to restore some order and send a message against illegality.

 

But we are not safe from other violent incidents because we have not attacked the root of the problem. On the one hand, there are some unionists, self-appointed as the messiahs of the foreign workers in this country, who are shooting in the dark, giving half-truths and unchecked information. On the other hand, there is a ministry of labour which has become so allergic to journalists that accurate information is impossible to trickle through.

 

The issue of overtime which was at the heart of triggering the violent incidents has to be resolved once and for all. There is no company which ‘creates’ overtime for the convenience of the workers. Overtime is dished out to the workers when there are sufficient orders to make it profitable for the company. So, it cannot be something guaranteed beforehand or that the worker can ask for at wish. The unionists who are wallowing in demagogy would do the workers a great favour by rationally explaining that to them.

 

Times are tough and they are tough for everyone. The industry is facing intense competition. We naturally condemn the employers whose attitude is one of exploiting or exporting the workers. But we could do with some more rational thinking and patriotism to keep our people employed. No country should allow anyone – least of all foreigners – to take the law into their own hands.

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