Migrant Workers in International Human Rights Law: Their Protection in Countries of Employment

By Ryszard Cholewinski | Go to book overview

7 The Right to Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination

7.1 BACKGROUND

The extent to which equality is realized between migrants and nationals is profoundly connected to the protection of the rights outlined in the following chapter. Discrimination against migrant workers and their families manifests itself in all parts of Europe.1 This discrimination also takes on many forms. Two distinct seams are distinguishable: 'systematic institutionalized discrimination',2 officially sanctioned by the State, and discrimination suffered by migrants at the hands of the general host population.3

The first vein of discrimination is interwoven into the fabric of the temporary migration system.4 It is particularly evident in the employment restrictions imposed

____________________
1
Although much of the literature on this subject concerns Western Europe, migrants in central and eastern Europe, and Vietnamese contract workers in particular, have also suffered discrimination. For a description of the dismal employment conditions and treatment of Vietnamese workers in this region, see E. Greenspon, "'What can happen when Guests overstay their Welcome'" [Toronto] Globe and Mail, 22 Oct 1990, A12 (concerning the situation in the former East Germany); G. Ginsburg, "'The Case of Vietnamese Gastarbeiters in the Soviet Union'" ( 1989) 35 Osteuropa- Recht166; M. Fisher, "'Unhappy Vietnamese Workers corner Illegal Bulgarian Market'" [Toronto] Globe and Mail, 5 Feb 1990; J. Topol, "'Slavery in a Newly Free State'" ( 1990) 3 Uncaptive Minds 24; and Fédération Internationale des Droits de L'Homme, Rapport de Mission a Prague ( Paris: Fédération Internationale des Droits de L'Homme, 1990) (concerning the situation in the former Czechoslovakia). The sweeping political changes and economic restructuring that is taking place in this region have led to many of these migrants losing their jobs and returning home. For example, there were over 33,000 Vietnamese workers in the former Czechoslovakia at the end of 1990. As at 30 June 1992, this number had fallen to a mere 5,483: SOPEMI 1993, 125, Table III.14 and Z. Pavlik and J. Maresova, "'Former Czechoslovakia'" ( 1994) 120 (Table 6.12). On 21 July 1995, Germany signed a readmission agreement with Vietnam to repatriate 40,000 Vietnamese nationals by the year 2000, including those who were formerly guest workers in East Germany. The implementation of this agreement, however, has been very slow to take effect. See MNS No. 160/96 ( July 1996), MNS No. 159/96 ( June 1996) 3, and Dateline Migration (International), "'Repatriation of Vietnamese in Germany'" ( 1995) 23:1Migrationworld Magazine 5.
2
J. S. Gundara, "'Racism and the National Question in Western Europe'" ( 1988) 33.
3
Castles and Kosack write that since the curtailment of primary migration in the 1970s, the continued inferior position of migrants on the labour market can only be explained by the effect of practices of institutional and informal discrimination against migrant workers: S. Castles and G. Kosack, Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe, 2nd edn. ( Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1985) 499.
4
P. L. Martin and M. J. Miller, "'Guest Workers: Lessons from Western Europe'" ( 1980) 33 Industr. & Lab. Rel. Rev.315, 328, 329-30. Martin and Miller, ibid. 329-30, observe, in assessing the possibility of establishing a temporary worker policy in the USA, that such a policy is unlikely to ensure respect for the human dignity of migrant workers. They contend that temporary worker policy in the context of a democratic society is, by its very nature, discriminatory and stands in opposition to the principle of equal opportunity.

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