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How migrant workers get trapped in debt to recruiters | Letters

It was saddening to see the report on Indonesian farm workers being obliged to pay recruitment fees (Revealed: Indonesian workers on UK farm ‘at risk of debt bondage’, 14 August), but it would not surprise anyone who has worked with transnational migrant workers, particularly from developing countries.

For 19 years, I have volunteered with a Singaporean NGO, Transient Workers Count Too, that works to further migrant workers’ rights and wellbeing, and we have researched how much workers pay recruiters to obtain jobs. We found that Bangladeshi men recruited to work in construction typically took on debts equivalent to a year’s earnings (including maximum overtime), and normally took about 18 months to pay them off.

Even Filipina domestic workers, who under Philippine law may not be charged recruitment fees, often ended up paying five or six months of their earnings to free themselves of recruitment debts, and they were the most favourably placed of the workers classified as semi-skilled.

Recruitment fees are not only a heavy burden on workers who had hoped to support their families by working abroad, but they also increase their vulnerability to the worst forms of exploitation. Workers who fear that they may lose their jobs and end up worse off than if they’d not taken the jobs in the first place are reluctant to complain about underpayment of wages, poor accommodation and safety standards, or ill health.

Much has to be done at an international level to abolish intermediary fees paid by workers, but conscientious employers can contribute by rigorously checking how their staff are recruited and, if possible, undertaking direct recruitment to eliminate exploitative intermediaries.
John Gee
Singapore

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