|Legal status of persons|
The term migrant worker has different official meanings and connotations in different parts of the world. The United Nations' definition is broad, including any people working outside of their home country. The term can also be used to describe someone who migrates within a country, possibly their own, in order to pursue work such as seasonal work.
United Nations' definition
The "United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families" defines migrant worker as follows:
|“||The term "migrant worker" refers to a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.||”|
The Convention has been ratified by Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines (amongst many other nations that supply foreign labour) but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, and Japan (amongst other nations that receive foreign labour).
Migrant workers in China are mostly people from impoverished regions who go to more urban and prosperous coastal regions in search of work, hence they are the main force for urbanization in the People's Republic of China. According to Chinese government statistics, the current number of migrant workers in China is estimated at 120 million, approximately 9% of the population. China's urban migrants sent home the equivalent of US$65.4 billion in 2005.
China is now experiencing the largest mass migration of people from the countryside to the city in history. An estimated 230 million Chinese (2010) — a number equivalent to two thirds the population of the United States — have left the countryside and migrated to the cities in recent years. About 13 million new people join the legions every year. The number is expected to reach 250 million by 2012 and surpass 300 million and maybe reach 400 million by 2025.
Many are farmers and farm workers made obsolete by modern farming practices and factory workers who have been laid off from inefficient state-run factories. They include men and women and couples with children. Men often get construction jobs while women work in cheap-labor factories. Most come from Sichuan, Hunan, Henan, Anhui and Jiangxi Provinces. A 60- year-old grandmother from Sichuan who was as laborer on a construction site in Shanghai told the Los Angeles Times, "If you're willing to work, you can get a job here even if you're old."
So many migrants leave their homes looking for work they overburden the rail system. In the Hunan province, 52 people were trampled to death in the late 1990s when 10,000 migrants were herded onto a freight train. To stem the flow of migrants, officials in Hunan and Sichuan have placed restrictions on the use of trains and buses by rural people.
Most migrant workers have traditionally gone to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and the coastal cities but more are heading to the interior where new opportunities are opening up and there is less competition. In some cities, the migrants almost outnumber the residents. The small industrial city of Yiwu, for example, in Zhejiang Province, is home to 640,000 official residents and a migrant population of several hundred thousand.
The booming cities are desperate for cheap labor while the countryside is experiencing labor surpluses. The cities provide so much work they are sometimes called "factories without chimneys."
The migration is all the more extraordinary when one considers that the government has tried to restrict it. One young girl told National Geographic, "All the young people leave our village. I'm not going back. Many can't even afford a bus ticket and hitchhike to Beijing."
Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of providing labor for factories and construction sites and for the long term goals of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one. Some inland cities have started providing migrants with social security, including pensions and other insurance.
The recent expansions of the European Union have provided opportunities for many people to migrate to other EU countries for work. For both the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, existing states were given the rights to impose various transitional arrangements to limit access to their labour markets. Migrant workers in Germany and Austria are known as Gastarbeiter.
The 1st of March has become a symbolic day for transnational migrants' strike. This day unites all migrants to give them a common voice to speak up against racism, discrimination and exclusion on all levels of social life. The transnational protests on 1 March were originally initiatied in the USA in 2006 and have encouraged migrants in other countries to organise and take action on that day. In Austria the first transnational migrants' strike (Transnationaler Migrant_innenstreik) took place in March 2011, in the form of common actions, e.g. a manifestation, but also in form of numerous decentralised actions.
According to the Finnish trade union organizations SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions) and PAM Finnish Service Union United PAM foreign workers were increasingly abused in the construction and transportation sectors in Finland in 2012, in some cases reporting hourly wages as two euros. Bulgarians, Kosovars and Estonians were the most likely victimised in the building trade.
There has been a substantial flow of people from Bangladesh and Nepal to India over recent decades in search of better work. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that these migrant workers are often subject to harassment, violence and discrimination during their journeys, at their destinations, and when they return home. Bangladeshi women appear to be particularly vulnerable. These findings highlight the need to promote migrants' rights with, amongst others, health staff, police and employers at destination.
Migrant workers in Kuwait suffer a range of abuses. Kuwait has more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers constitute nearly a third of the work force in this small Gulf country of only 1.3 million citizens. But domestic workers are excluded from the labor laws that protect other workers. They have minimal protection against employers who withhold salaries, force employees to work long hours with no days off, deprive them of adequate food, or abuse them physically or sexually.
The term foreign worker is generally used in the United States to refer to someone fitting the international (UN) definition of a migrant worker while the term migrant worker is used for someone who regularly works away from home, if they have a home at all.
In the United States, "migrant worker" is sometimes restricted to low-wage workers performing manual labor in the agriculture field; these are often illegal immigrants who do not have valid work visas. The United States has enacted the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act to remove the restraints on commerce caused by activities detrimental to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, to require farm labor contractors to register, and to assure necessary protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.
The term migrant worker may be broadly used to describe any worker who moves from one seasonal job to another, or narrowly confined to lower-wage fields, perhaps because the term has been linked with low-wage farmworkers and illegal aliens. Examples of itinerants, some of them quite lucrative, include: electricians in the construction industry; other construction workers who travel from one construction job to another, often in different cities; wildland firefighters in the western United States; temporary Consultants; transport workers such as Interstate truck drivers; and entertainers such as those who worked the Vaudeville circuits.
Women and migrant labor
Economic conditions in developing countries have created the need for a new wave of migrant workers, predominantly young females. Turnover rate in many of these migrant jobs is very high due to harsh working conditions. This occurs on both a national and transnational basis. In Europe alone there are 3 million female migrant workers. The 1970s and 1980s have seen an increase in female migrant laborers in France and Belgium. Female migrants work in domestic occupations which are considered part of the informal sector and lack a degree of government regulation and protection. Minimum wages and work hour requirements are ignored and piece-rates are sometimes also implemented. Migrant labor allows large companies to keep up with the changes in the market and fashions but still keep production inexpensive at home. Women's wages are kept lower than men because they are not regarded as the primary source of income in the family.
Why women participate in migrant labor
Women become involved in migrant labor for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are economic: the husband's wage is no longer enough to support the family. Other reasons include familial pressure, on a daughter, for instance, who is seen as a reliable source of income for the family only through remittances. Young girls and women are singled out in families to be migrant workers because they don't have a viable alternative role to fulfill in the local village and if they go to work in the urban centers as domestics they can at least send home money. Many of these women come from developing countries, and are low skilled. Additionally women who are widowed, divorced or single and have limited economic opportunities in their native country may be forced to leave out of economic necessity. Lastly, migration can also substitute for divorce in societies that don't allow or do not condone divorce.
Effect of migrant labor on gender roles
In terms of migrant labor, many women move from a more oppressive home country to a less oppressive environment where they have actual access to waged work. As such, leaving the home and obtaining increased economic independence and freedom challenges traditional gender roles. This can be seen to strengthen women's position in the family by improving their relative bargaining position. They have more leverage in controlling the household because they have control over a degree of economic assets. However, this can lead to hostility between wives and husbands who feel inadequate or ashamed at their inability to fulfill their traditional role as breadwinner. The hostility and resentment from the husband can also be a source of domestic violence. Studies have also been done which point to changes in family structures as a result of migrant labor. These changes include increased divorce rates and decrease in household stability. Additionally, female migrant labor has been indicated as a source for more egalitarian relationships within the family, decline of extended family patterns, and more nuclear families. There is also a risk for infidelity abroad, which also erodes the family structure.
Migrant labor and children
Migrant labor of women also raises special concerns about children. Female migrant workers perform care work abroad while leaving home. These children learn to regard their relatives at home as their own parents. Frequently, children of migrant workers become migrant workers themselves. There is concern that this may have negative psychological effects on the children left behind. Although this has not been proven to be entirely true or false, studies have been done which show that many children of migrant workers manage reasonably well. One theory for why this is states that remittances to some degree make up for the lack of care by providing more resources for food and clothing. Additionally, some migrant mothers take great care in attempting to maintain familial relationships while abroad.
National vs. transnational migration
Like transnational migration, national (internal) migration plays an important role in poverty reduction and economic development. For some countries, internal migrants outnumber those who migrate internationally. For example, 120 million people were estimated to migrate internally in China compared to 458,000 people who migrated internationally for work. Situations of surplus labor in rural areas because of scarcity of arable land is a common "push factor" in the move of individuals to urban-based industries and service jobs. Environmental factors including drought, waterlogging, and river-bank erosion also contribute to internal migration.
There are four spatial patterns of internal migration:
- Rural-rural migration: in many poor countries like Senegal, rural-rural migration occurs when laborers from poorer regions travel to agriculturally-rich and irrigated areas which have more work.
- Rural-urban migration: seen in the urbanizing economies of Asia, migration of poor agricultural workers move to larger cities and manufacturing centers.
- Urban-rural migration: migration that occurs when individuals retire back to their villages. Oftentimes, migrants who return bring back skill sets that benefit their home areas tremendously.
- Urban-urban migration: as the predominant form of internal migration, this movement takes place from the center of towns to the outer areas of the town.
Circular migration, the temporary and repetitive movement of a migrant worker between home and host areas, can occur both internally and transnationally.
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