Migrant Workers Find Work but No Welcome EUROPE DEBATES RIGHTS

Article excerpt

CONSTRUCTION season has started again in Switzerland, and with it came this year's first wave of migrant workers.

Each year several hundred thousand workers, mostly from the poorer nations of the European Union, wend their way here seeking jobs in the construction, agriculture and hotel industries.

While these workers take on jobs often described as the "three D's" - dirty, difficult, and dangerous - they find little welcome here. Switzerland has some of the world's most restrictive legislation for migrant workers. "The Swiss have allowed these workers not because they love foreigners but because they need the foreigners," says Pascal Reale, head of the Wood and Building trade union in Geneva. "No Swiss wanted to do that work." In 1993, close to 1 million foreigners were employed in Switzerland, according to the Bureau of Foreign Affairs. Today, 60 percent of those work in construction, according to the International Labor Organization here. But now Germany receives the most Eastern European migrants and is steadily replacing Switzerland as the destination of choice for construction workers from poorer EU countries, such as Ireland, Portugal, and Britain, says Roger Bohning, chief of migration at the ILO. Yet there are few rewards to being a migrant worker in Switzerland or elsewhere in Europe. In Switzerland, for example, most migrant workers aren't allowed to bring their families here until they can prove that they have enough money and space. Workers are assigned to an employer and can't change jobs unless of a medical emergency. Britain, Germany, and Sweden also have assigned work systems. In the early 1990s, the majority of new construction workers from Eastern Europe came into Germany as "project-bound contractees." In 1992, the German construction trade union estimated there were 500,000 of these workers. Being a migrant worker differs little from indentured servitude, says Jean-Louis Streckheison, secretary of a Geneva-based agricultural union, adding that the system leaves virtually no way out and up. "It's manual, and poorly paid," says Mr. …


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