The recent story by Corruption Free Anguilla blog on the plight of Indian migrant workers on that island made me think about the Chinese labourers here on Barbados. I saw a pair doing some concrete work in Bridgetown a few months ago and I remember thinking at the time that they looked sad and lonely. I was also surprised at their age – around 45 at a guess – as I had imagined that the imported Chinese workers would be younger.
It is easy to imagine that a younger person might want to trade home and family for a while to taste the adventure of working with a construction crew in another country, but to me that seems a little odd for a 45 year old. Or maybe I’m just applying my values to these Chinese folks and it is natural in China that a 45 year old man would want to work so far away from friends and family? Perhaps they are desperate. Could they be, as some have suggested, convicts or political prisoners?
Paid Workers Or Sharecroppers With A Debt That Cannot Be Worked Off?
How much are they being paid? Do we know that they are collecting all their salary? Or, are they like the sharecroppers or miners of old who would work and buy at the “company store” – only to be told after a year that they still owed a debt that could never be worked off? Are their living conditions acceptable? Do they have access to medical and dental care? Can they communicate with their loved ones back home? Are they getting enough to eat? Are their working conditions at least as safe as required on Barbados?
So Many Questions, But The Government Remains Silent
In all our discussions about the use of imported Chinese labour in Barbados it is easy to forget that we are talking about real people who have journeyed half way around the world to work for little money and to live in conditions that most of us would not even consider. Forget about the fact that they are taking Bajan jobs. Forget about the political shenanigans going on all around the issue.
These are real people who are guests on Barbados – if only for a while.
The Chinese workers should be entitled to all the fundamental human rights that we would want for any fellow human being. They deserve to be compensated properly and to live and work in acceptable conditions.
There have been enough warning signs around the world about migrant workers who are little more than slaves, that Bajans and our government should be extremely wary about the circumstances surrounding the employment and living conditions of these Chinese workers.
With our country’s legacy in the fight against slavery and then our struggle to achieve equality for all – no matter the colour of the skin – Bajans owe it to themselves and to history to be interested in the welfare of each one of these Chinese imported workers.