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Migrant workers can face challenges like dangerous working conditions, exploitative employers, assault, and coerced or slave labor. The United Nations among other organizations has taken steps to define and defend the rights of migrant workers, including undocumented immigrants who do not have the same legal status as workers who are in a country with consent from the government. Such workers can be found in domestic settings, sweatshops, manufacturing facilities, and agricultural environments, performing a variety of labor. This often includes unskilled work.
One issue for some migrant workers is labor coercion. Undocumented workers may be unpaid or poorly paid, and can have identity documents confiscated by supervisors who warn them that reporting the situation to law enforcement will result in deportation. Wage theft, where employers promise to pay wages and do not make good on the agreed payments, is another issue for migrant workers. Some are also lured into a country under false pretenses; for example, a worker may be promised a job at a hospital and then sent to a private home as a cleaner.
Hazardous working conditions are also an issue, because migrant workers tend to be employed in dangerous industries and employers may not comply with health and safety laws. This can include exposure to pesticides and herbicides, improperly maintained heavy equipment, and extreme heat or cold. Normal working protections like limits on working hours and scheduled breaks may not be granted, and people may labor for 12 hours or more without a break or access to a bathroom. This can create a public health problem; field workers may relieve themselves in the field, for example, potentially passing on pathogens to consumers.
Some employers may provide housing to migrant workers, but it can be substandard in quality and may be dangerous. Exposed wiring, badly maintained pit toilets, and other health and safety issues can make housing unpleasant and unsafe for workers. Workers with an undocumented immigration status may also be imprisoned in their housing by employers and foremen, and may be intimidated into not complaining or reporting the poor working conditions.
Physical and sexual assault are also potential risks for migrant workers. Employers and supervisors may abuse workers and threaten them into silence. Child labor is another documented problem with migrant workers in many nations, and children in this situation usually lack access to education and other resources. Health care for workers of all ages may be limited, which can allow for the spread of disease in addition to severe complications from treatable conditions that were not addressed until it was too late.
I once heard an employer of migrant workers say that if the migrant workers really had such bad working conditions then they would find other jobs and stop working for him. Of course, I cannot speak for all migrant workers, but many of them who I have spoken with are caught in a tough situation.
I have interviewed Mexican migrant workers working in the U.S., and the common theme is that the work they do in the U.S. is so important because it provides the money they need to keep their families alive back home. The money is more than they could make anywhere else, but the amount is far less than the amount the average American earns.
In addition to the work being hard and the living conditions being inadequate in many cases, the migrant workers spend so much time away from their families that they miss out on so much.
This article is dedicated to explaining the dangers that migrant workers might experience, and I was surprised to read just how many issues they have to face as a whole, but it is important to mention that many migrant workers are treated well and have very positive work experiences.
I have a friend who owns a farm, and he admits that without migrant workers he would be unable to keep his operation going. For this reason, he is thankful for the employees and treats them with respect. Migrant farm workers often do labor that other people are no longer qualified to do or simply have no desire to do.
My friend houses the workers in a couple of houses that were lived in by other members of his family previously. The houses are old, and my friend wouldn't want to change his home for where he houses them, but the accommodations are reasonable.
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