Domestic workers getting a rough deal in Europe

By Maria Suelzu, Caritas Internationalis

Warsaw, 17-19 September 2009

I had attended the Caritas Europa Migration Forum meeting in the past and they were big events with a lot of participants from Europe and other parts of the world. This one was smaller and participants were mainly European because its focus was on labour migration to Europe only.

We had some very interesting discussions on various issues connected with this type of migration in Europe, from both European countries and other parts of the world. We worked in groups and I attended two of them: the first on how to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers and the second on the social cost of migration.

During the meeting, I realised that not much progress has been made yet for the recognition of the role domestic workers. An important thing to do is lobby at all levels to make sure that locals understand better the role of such workers, who help our societies function. They should not be seen as “stealers of our jobs”, but as those workers who enable us to enjoy a better life style while they take care of our children, elderly people and households in general. At the same time, they are forced to leave the care of their own families in the hands of relatives and do not see their close relatives sometimes for months or even years, depending on which continent they originally came from. This has a long term effect on the families left behind, particularly children, but also a strong emotional impact on the migrants themselves who often have no or little contact with people either than their employer.

Two interesting suggestions were made: the first was that we should focus on and analyse better the emotional stress and its consequences on migrant workers and try to find a way of helping migrant workers to suffer less; the second was that there should be access to a form of legal assistance (or an ombudsman with binding decision for the employer) for irregular migrant workers. Unfortunately the international financial crisis and the growing unemployment figures do not help the acceptance and integration of migrant workers.

In some countries they have been the target of xenophobic violence in the worst cases, but in general they have enjoyed a less respectful treatment as if it were somehow OK to be rude to them and use them as scapegoats for the crisis and the loss of jobs. It has become vital to lobby for them by trying to make the local populations understand that migrants are just like us and not different and somehow “alien”. They have the same needs and hopes for a better life.

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Filed under Advocacy, Domestic servitude, Europe, Labor exploitation, Migration

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