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May 1 Manifesto: Labor and Migration Rights

The migratory question has become omnipresent in European news and in the relationships between European Union countries and those of migrants’ origin. Beyond the gripping images of dozens of shipwrecks on the Spanish, Italian, and Greek beaches and by the rise of unlucky applicants crammed in the temporary retention centers on the outskirts of airports and ports, today’s migrations question the capacity of integration into our societies and the political choices of our elected officials. It also highlights the EU’s objective to act as a major stakeholder and impose regulations linking migration to third world development; engaging the third world countries of the migrants’ origin in the provisions against illegal immigration and the reinforcement of legal migration to provide labor.

If we admit that the competitiveness of the aging European economies depends on their capacity to host foreign, seasonal workers, that the dynamic functioning of the globalization channels through the solidarity and cooperation built between the members of the EU on one hand and the countries of origin on the other; the Convention of the UN on the rights of open migrants will then open a new program of analysis on the idea of integration, in the axis of research “competition, cooperation, solidarity.”

The protection of immigrant workers painfully points a finger at increasing restrictions imposed by Western Europe. It sheds light on the fundamental divergences between the theoretical discourse where democratic values of tolerance, non-discrimination, and the spirit of openness are predominant; and on the other hand the practices governed by objectives of security and of exclusion.

During the 1970s, the recognition of the vulnerability of migrant workers had dictated the United Nations Convention. With the aim to give an adequate level of protection, this text that does not create new rights, but is primarily intended to guarantee equal treatment and work conditions for both migrants and citizens. Now, the majority of EU members have abandoned these precepts. EU members did not ratify the Convention of the United Nations on the protection of all migrant workers and their families (adopted in December 1990), while the EU still promotes legal work migration for seasonal migrants. Host countries have modified migration regulations in significant ways, leading them to fail to protect the rights of migrant workers.

Family reunification and the social protection of seasonal workers from the third world constitutes two examples proving how much these new measures betray the rights of man and are counterproductive in the perspective of integration presented like an objective at the national level and the community in the space of the EU. Even more, the minimally binding character of EU standards offers the possibility of members to legislate increasingly restrictive rules for immigrant workers.

Family reunification suggests the right to live with family invoked in numerous international and European texts. Each time, it is explicit as such only in two texts: the Convention of the United Nations, and convention 143 of the International Organization of Work on migrant workers. Neither one nor the other is ratified by the members of the EU who are the main host countries of migrants. Article 25 indicates the “the migrant workers should receive no less favorable of treatment…” in material of payment, the working conditions, overtime, of paid leave, of security, “and all the other working conditions that, according to national law and practice, are covered by the term,” including social services.

The ambiguity of the UN convention has made its stipulations difficult to enforce. Convention 118 of the International Labor Organization (established in 1964), however, offers a clearer and more effective alternative. The principle that is held as a social right by this convention demands equal treatment for everyone in member state territories, regardless of the length or type of their stay (article 3). The situation of seasonal workers elucidates the need for such policies: their prospects of settling are restricted and their social protection is at a minimum, though numerous reports from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development point to their contribution to the dynamism of the economy.

The economic agreements signed in the 1960s between EU members and other countries contained social arrangements, and stipulated the equality of treatment of African and European workers in areas of social security. However, the agreements of Cotonou of ACP states (African, Caribbean, and Pacific group of states) that replaced the June 23, 2000 Lomé agreement, did not contain the same principle. As a result, the ratification of the Convention of the United Nations, as well as the application of the 118th convention of the ILO, is now crucial, as the regimes of exceptions put in place by these bilateral accords disappear.

Today, the integration of migrant workers and their descendants is becoming a major concern of European governments. This manifests itself in the effort to restrict the number of migrants authorized to enter the EU, and the effort to recruit productive migrants, or qualified workers. The politics put in place by EU member states contradicts the rights of migrants for whom recognition is vital for political ability, as well as the same logic of integration that the EU holds as a democratic value.

Restrictions on family reunification are not compatible with this effort to bring in immigrant workers, as it makes France less attractive as a receiving country. A country in which the right to family reunification depends on a person’s knowledge of the French language is hardly welcoming to a Malian or Senegalese worker who has not yet resided in France.

The protection of the fundamental rights of migrant workers must be valued by receiving countries. The integration of bordering country nationals in Europe depends on the respect of these rights, and should not be hindered by restrictive policies as it is today.

The 118th convention allows migrants to stay in contact with their country of origin through the right to return, the right of occasional visits from family members, the maintenance of cultural relations, the participation of migrants in political life of their home country, and the right of migrants to transfer their earnings to their home countries. It is not an element that attracts migrants in itself, but it facilitates integration and social justice, and encourages détente with the country of origin of migrant workers in the search of a better life elsewhere.

Today, immigrant workers expelled from EU countries calls upon both European and African politicians responsible for the abuse of immigrant rights. This manifesto highlights the contradiction between the efforts of integration in the EU and the flagrant violation of immigrant worker rights.

Bamako, May 1 2011/ Malian Association for Deportees

Translated by Rebecca Henderson and Diana Dover

Sunday 1 May 2011

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