Migrant Workers are disproportionately at risk of COVID-19


Migrant workers are disproportionately at risk of COVI-19, because of worse access to health care and poor working conditions warns human rights group.

The Group, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties, has written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) raising its concerns and urging that action is taken to address the disparity in the way migrant workers are treated.

In the letter to the WHO, they say: “We have looked at several major global sporting and cultural events, which are taking place over the coming 12 months. While many utilise existing facilities, such as the FA Cup, Tour De France and Formula One, a small number require significant new infrastructure such as the Olympics and Expo.

“Tokyo 2020 has already faced substantial criticism over its treatment of migrant workers. Expo 2020, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates, follows a similar pattern of being heavily reliant on migrant labour, but has not been called out for the poor practices and discriminatory treatment of migrant workers.”

The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties point out that migrant workers in the UAE have few rights and poor access to health care, which is vital to successfully fighting this terrible disease.

They urge the WHO to encourage the United Arab Emirates to take into account the health and safety of the thousands of persons working on the preparation of the facilities for the Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The letter continues, “…responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires good access to health care, including migrant workers in the Emirate, the majority of whom are from Asian countries, as the risk of a pandemic spreads worldwide.

“Migrant workers in the UAE and elsewhere represent a vulnerable group with limited access to healthcare and poor living conditions including in cramped, overcrowded or substandard accommodation. We believe that they should not be treated differently to other groups and more needs to be done to protect them from the risk of infection from Coronavirus.

“This will require urgent action to stop the ongoing work, especially when it takes place in overcrowded complexes where the infection is easily spread.”

The Group also calls for effective monitoring and screening of workers moving between countries or between jobs.

“If workers are forced to move location, region or country for financial or health care reasons, this is likely to mitigate against global efforts to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.”

The Geneva Council reviewed statements issued about particular events, whether the organisers were considering, or had taken measure relating to Coronavirus and reports about the conditions of migrant workers.

Earlier today the Prime Minister of Japan, confirmed that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed for 12 months.

Expo 2020 Dubai, issued such a statement last Wednesday, after a meeting with participating countries to consult on the impact of the Coronavirus on their preparations without including any indication of measures taken to protect workers or stop construction work temporarily.

The UAE is working on the construction of a site that extends over an area of 4.4 square kilometres, as the headquarters of the Expo, in which 192 countries will participate, to be opened on 20 October 2020 and continue until 10 April 2021.

Work continues at the facilities of the Expo, even though the UAE witnessed two deaths from the Coronavirus, in addition to 14 cases of the epidemic, which prompted the state to take extensive precautionary measures to stop government institutions being disrupted and to prevent travel, but the measures taken did not include workers and the construction sector that depends on foreign arrivals.

The Geneva Council reiterates that respect for human rights in accordance with international standards such as the “United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” obliges the UAE to take immediate measures regarding worker protection.

Moreover, the UAE has a poor record regarding workers’ rights, as migrant construction workers face exploitation, and the state adopts a sponsorship system that links migrant workers to their employers and can be tried for “absconding” and punished with fines, imprisonment, and deportation if they leave the employer. Despite some positive reforms of the labour laws that the UAE has undertaken in recent years, foreign workers still face dangerous working conditions and failure to ensure their safety and prevent them from forming unions to claim their rights.

The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties stressed that the UAE must ensure that human rights remain at the core of measures to prevent coronavirus without discrimination, foremost among which is the safety of low-wage migrant workers who are at high risk of forced labour.

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