02/05/2009, 00.00
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Migrant workers, first victims of world recession

In Singapore, 100 migrant workers are locked in cage for three months. Employer did not want to face authorities for unpaid back pay. This year some 51 million jobs will be lost. According to ILO figures world unemployment should reach 7.1 per cent.
Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Migrant workers who were among the first to play a key role in the globalisation of the world economy are also among the first victims of the financial crisis that has hit global markets. A crucial source of manpower for manufacturing and construction sectors, now many of them are out of work because of the recession, unable to collect back pay and incapable of going back home where living conditions are even worse.

The story of Mohammad Ali, a ship welder who left his native Bangladesh for Singapore, is one of the many examples of how migrant workers are abused.  When he and 100 other workers wanted to complain to the authorities about their unpaid salaries his employer locked them in an outdoor cage to stop them.

Come rain or shine, Mr Ali was trapped like an animal for the next three months.

His ordeal ended in September when a local advocacy group, Transient Workers Count Too, found out and told Singapore's Labour Ministry.

Singapore's construction, shipyard and manufacturing industries were once red hot, hiring almost 800,000 migrants in 2007. But, as the economy slipped into recession, demand for labour plunged and major projects were cancelled or delayed.

Human rights groups say many of the world's estimated 100 million migrant workers are in dire predicaments as economic woes in the Gulf, Singapore and Taiwan lead to mass layoffs of labourers from countries such as Bangladesh, mainland China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

One of them is Filipina Vangie Paticeria. “I am drowning in neck-deep debt,” she said after losing her job in Taiwan in December.

Similarly, if “I go back Bangladesh, I [am] dead,” said Monerul Monto. “If you know of any job, please tell [me]. I will do anything.”

As many as 51 million jobs worldwide could be lost this year because of the global economic crisis, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported.

The world's unemployment rate should reach 7.1 per cent by year’s end, up from 6.0 per cent last year and 5.7 per cent a year before.

The ILO's most optimistic forecast is for 18 million more unemployed, but more realistically 30 million more people could lose their jobs.

This week US construction and mining equipment giant Caterpillar is cutting about 20,000 jobs, Home Depot is losing 7,000 jobs, and other firms such as ING and Philips are also axing posts.

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