Many people migrate to another country to earn a decent income and to attain a better standard of living. But my recent research shows that across all destinations and generations studied, many migrants from Turkey to European countries are financially worse off than those who stayed at home.
Even if there are some non-monetary benefits of staying in the destination country, such as living in a more orderly environment, this raises fundamental questions. Primarily, why are 79% of the first-generation men who contributed to the growth of Europe by taking on some of the dirtiest, riskiest manual jobs – like working in asbestos processing and sewage canals – still living in income poverty? There is a strong indication that the European labour markets and welfare states are failing migrants and their descendants.
In my recent book, Poverty and International Migration, I examined the poverty status of three generations of migrants from Turkey to multiple European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. I compared them with the “returnees” who moved back to Turkey and the “stayers” who have never left the country.
The study covers the period from early 1960s to the time of their interview (2010-2012), and draws on a sample of 5,980 adults within 1,992 families. The sample was composed of living male ancestors (those who went first were typically men), their children and grandchildren.
For my research, the poverty line was set at 60% of the median disposable household income (adjusted for household size) for every country studied. Those who fall below the country threshold are defined as the income poor.
Data for this research is drawn from the 2000 Families Survey which I conducted with academics based in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The survey generated what is believed to be the world’s largest database on labour migration to Europe through locating the male ancestors who moved to Europe from five high migration regions in Turkey during the guest-worker years of 1960-1974 and their counterparts who did not migrate at the time.
It charts the family members who were living in various European countries up to the fourth generation, and those that stayed behind in Turkey. The period corresponds to a time when labourers from Turkey were invited through bi-lateral agreements between states to contribute to the building of western and northern Europe.
The results presented in my book show that four-fifths (79%) of the first-generation men who came to Europe as guest-workers and ended up settling there lived below an income poverty line, compared with a third (33%) of those that had stayed in the home country. By the third generation, around half (49%) of those living in Europe were still poor, compared with just over a quarter (27%) of those who remained behind.
Migrants from three family generations residing in countries renowned for the generosity of their welfare states were among the most impoverished. Some of the highest poverty rates were observed in Belgium, Sweden and Denmark.
For example, across all three generations of migrants settled in Sweden, 60% were in income poverty despite an employment rate of 61%. This was the highest level of employment observed for migrants in all the countries studied. Migrants in Sweden were also, on average, more educated than those living in other European destinations.
My findings also reveal that while more than a third (37%) of “stayers” from the third generation went on to complete higher education. This applied to less than a quarter (23%) of the third generation migrants spread across European countries.
Turkish guest workers in a Berlin park in the 1980s. DPA/Alamy
Returnees did well
Having a university education turned out not to improve the latter’s chances of escaping poverty as much as it did for the family members who had not left home. The “returnees” to Turkey were, on the other hand, found to fare much better than those living in Europe and on a par with, if not better than, the “stayers”.
Less than a quarter of first- and third-generation returnees (23% and 24% respectively) experienced income poverty and 43% from the third generation attained a higher education qualification. The money they earned abroad along with their educational qualifications seemed to buy them more economic advantage in Turkey than in the destination country.
The results of the research should not be taken to mean that international migration is economically a bad decision as we still do not know how impoverished these people were prior to migration. First-generation migrants are anecdotally known to be poorer at the time of migration than those who decided not to migrate during guest-worker years, and are likely to have made some economic gains from their move. The returnees’ improved situation does lend support to this.
Nor should the findings lead to the suggestion that if migrants do not earn enough in their new home country, they should go back. Early findings from another piece of research I am currently undertaking suggests that while income poverty considerably reduces migrants’ life satisfaction, there are added non-monetary benefits of migration to a new destination. The exact nature of these benefits remains unknown but it is likely to do, for example, with living in a better organised environment that makes everyday life easier.
However, we still left with the question of why migrants are being left in such poverty. Coupled with the findings from another recent study demonstrating that more than half of Europeans do not welcome non-EU migrants from economically poorer countries, evidence starts to suggest an undercurrent of systemic racism may be acting as a cause.
If migrants were welcome, one would expect destination countries with far more developed welfare states than Turkey to put in place measures to protect guest workers against the risk of poverty in old age, or prevent their children and grandchildren from falling so far behind their counterparts in Turkey in accessing higher education.
They would not let them settle for lower returns on their educational qualifications in more regulated labour markets. It’s also unlikely we would have observed some of the highest poverty rates in countries with generous welfare states such as Sweden – top ranked for its anti-discrimination legislation, based on equality of opportunity.
Overall, the picture for “unwanted” migrants appears to be rather bleak. Unless major systemic changes are made, substantial improvement to their prospects are unlikely.
In an unprecedented intervention at the African level, Tunisia chairs the 1st African council of informal workers’ unions. It must be noted that the gathering of all African informal sectors that involve most of the continent’s populations, in Tunis, is a very commendable effort.
Tunisia chairs 1st African council of informal workers’ unions
(TAP) – An agreement on the creation of the first African council of informal workers’ unions was signed Wednesday during a regional forum held under the theme “the representativeness of informal workers: for an inclusive social dialogue.”
The forum is organised on the initiative of the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment, in collaboration with the Global Equity Initiative.
“Tunisia, which is represented by the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment, is the chair of this African council which includes 6 unions of the informal sector of South Africa, Liberia, Rwanda, Guinea, Ghana and India,” said president of the institute Asma Ben Hassen.
She told TAP the council aims to implement the recommendations of studies developed by the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment and the International Labour Office, on the informal sector to implement projects to promote social and health conditions of workers.
Ben Hassen stressed that the file of the informal economy is among the priorities of the Tunisian government for several considerations including the increase in the number of informal workers who reached about 1,592,000 in 2019, according to the National Institute of Statistics, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of economic and social crises.
For his part, Minister of Social Affairs Malek Ezzehi stressed the need to address the challenges of the social protection system for vulnerable groups and informal workers, noting the importance of launching a social dialogue to strengthen the transition from the informal economy to the formal economy and support the representativeness of workers in this sector.
A number of representatives of ministries and national organisations, such as the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) took part in this meeting, along with components of civil society and specialised centres.
Delegations and experts from Africa and Asia were also present, as well as former Guinean Prime Minister Kabiné Komara.
The presence of rich data resources has enabled businesses to segment and personalise their products and services, which has provided an opportunity for these companies to rapidly expand into new spaces of innovation. All these adjustments have had a profound impact on the structure and functioning of the workplace. As a result, this has created a need for organisations to rethink how they hire, engage, develop, reward, and lead their workforce
Technology is changing the way we live and work, stirring businesses into adapting effortlessly. Every business, regardless of industry, now has the need and potential to evolve digitally and consequently, globally.
The presence of rich data resources has enabled businesses to segment and personalise their products and services, which has provided an opportunity for these companies to rapidly expand into new spaces of innovation. All these adjustments have had a profound impact on the structure and functioning of the workplace. As a result, this has created a need for organisations to rethink how they hire, engage, develop, reward, and lead their workforce.
From “for whom” to “with whom”
High performing organisations have begun to operate as empowered networks, coordinated through culture, information systems and talent mobility. This requires companies to redesign the organisation itself with new operational models to be implemented at different levels. The fast-paced business activities demand that firms are not encumbered by legacy practices, traditional systems, and behaviors that consume resources such as time and money but do not deliver the desired results in return. This has led to the popular question; “for whom do you work?” to be replaced by “with whom do you work?”
HR Management was primarily designed as a compliance function in an organisation, with a focus on managing talent, processes, and transactions. However, constantly changing business and organisational structures require a flexible, data-driven, and highly skilled human resource system that can attract, retain, and develop talents. HR is transforming into an innovative consultancy with a broader scope and responsibility to design, formulate strategies, and enhance the entire employee and employer experience.
Transforming a business environment requires a new HR system that is more tactical and strategic as opposed to administrative. A strategic HR team has the potential to build a team of employees most suited to the company’s requirements. Moreover, digitising functions will enable senior management to focus on functions such as increasing the market share of their business, growing their customer base, driving product innovation, increasing sales, and helping the company be more responsive to the market, among other operations.
Shifting to a company-wide interrelated function
An organisation’s HR has evolved from a silo away from core business plans and activities to a department that cofunctions with management, to further understand business needs, and most importantly, to enable and empower their key resource: employees. With the rise of disruptive technologies such as block chain, AI, machine learning VR/AR, and people analytics, the suitability of HR practices has greatly expanded. Every HR department owns a variety of data, including payroll, social media, employee engagement surveys, leadership assessments and developments, performance reviews, recruiting, and exit interviews, which if conducted correctly, can guarantee key insights for future business decisions.
The two shifts taking place that play a significant role in shaping this industry’s future are the options on how companies support traditional HR practices, and talent retention in an environment where employees are capable and eager to transfer to new workplaces. The GCC region has a stable regulatory framework, excellent infrastructure, and a diverse range of talents and capabilities among its residents and expats. Furthermore, the region’s present interest in harnessing technology and innovation is projected to assist GCC enterprises’ human resources departments. It is estimated by the World Economic Forum that 41% of all work activities in Kuwait are susceptible to automation, 46% in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 47% in the UAE, and 52%in Qatar. As compared to 2015, 21% of core skills required across all occupations was different in 2020 in the GCC.
Professionals that can combine extensive industry expertise with cutting-edge analytical tools to quickly modify corporate strategies will be in high demand. Crowdfunding sites, remote and virtual work, and other online platforms are gaining popularity. This necessitates HR departments in GCC organisations managing a distributed and virtual workforce, integrating freelancers, and mitigating the constraints of online work. Furthermore, it necessitates businesses to foster a culture of continuous learning and knowledge of the changing infrastructure among their staff.
Organisations can utilise people analytics and predictive talent modelling to identify pain points and prioritise future analytics investments. Data analytics can also help businesses correctly identify employees who are on the verge of leaving and persuade them to stay with more informed efforts. This not only increases customer satisfaction but also lowers costs.
Rebranding human resources
Several significant innovations are having an impact on today’s HR functions. Companies choose solutions that allow for ongoing performance monitoring, obviating the need for formal quarterly or half-yearly staff reviews. The process will become increasingly automated and streamlined as firms adopt a single data model to enable real-time KPIs to measure and analyse performance. Firms demand real-time management, and HR must respond by leveraging analytics and data in creative ways to improve staff management.
The majority of today’s workforce are incredibly tech-savvy and want a consistent and distinctive experience on a daily basis. The workforce will increasingly include millennials who expect cutting-edge technology to support them in their employment, necessitating the organisation’s ongoing invention of new ways to engage the workforce.
As the power of technology grows, technology needs to become a trusted partner at work, augmenting an individual’s role in smart ways so that the employees can focus on those aspects of the job that require human touch and skills. Artificial intelligence enables large-scale efficiencies and serves as a foundation for many of the new technologies that businesses are adopting.
In many firms, HR functions have been rebranded, with phrases such as “employee experience”, “people management”, and “human capital” to signal a shift in the brand. Organisations are still grappling with how digitisation will fundamentally alter human work and in what ways humans and the emerging machine co-workers will work together. This is likely to create new value for customers and the firm. It is high time to reimagine work across the enterprise and HR with digitisation and automation.
Dr Ahmad Khamis is the co-founder & CEO at BLOOVO, a technology company founded in 2014 specializing in the provision of AI-powered recruitment solutions. Ahmad is a seasoned private equity and venture capital professional boasting over 17 years of multi-national experience. His career has seen him in senior roles at several blue-chip companies in the MENA region and premier consultancies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from University College London (UCL), Diploma in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics (LSE), Masters in Finance from the University of Leicester and a Doctorate in Financial Economics from Manchester.
INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa have partnered with global consulting firm Oliver Wyman to explore labour market skills gap in the MENA Region and Sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to tackle the unemployment challenge.
The “Youth Employment Perception” survey was conducted in response to the realization that these incremental unemployment figures cannot solely be attributed to lack of opportunities in the formal labor market.
The study took place across thirteen countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and the UAE in the MENA region, along with six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa i(Eswatini, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe).
The study looked at markets across four key areas to provide a dual-perspective from both youth and employers which included sectoral opportunities and challenges, qualifying the skills gap, bridging the gap, and the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. Interestingly around 60% of youth are unable to secure employment due to lack of relevant work experience, while 70% believe they need updated education and upskilling to find employment, showing just how much a problem the skills gap currently is.
The study surveyed more than 350 employers across the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, and over 2,000 youths across both regions. The employer respondents were selected from various industries to get a broad view, including education, public sector and nonprofit organizations, financial services, manufacturing, engineering, and professional services. The insights from the study will be used to influence the private sector and public policy in addressing these challenges.
AkefAqrabawi, President &CEO of INJAZ Al-Arab, said: “In keeping with our commitment to inspire and prepare a generation of Arab youth to become the leaders of tomorrow, we were pleased to collaborate with Oliver Wyman on a project that has the potential to support the MENA region and Sub-Saharan Africain tackling the unemployment challenge. The survey sheds awareness on the disparity between the skills that youth are currently being equipped with, and the requirements requested by today’s employers. We will continue our work at INJAZ-Al Arab by leveraging the insights garnered from this study to provide the necessary programs and mentorship opportunities to students to close this gap.”
Continuing to discuss the power of the partnership, Pierre Romagny, Partner at Oliver Wyman, said: “We were pleased to partner once again with INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on such a pivotal project to deepen our common understanding of the skills gaps and youth-employer disconnects on the labor market. These insights are critical to point the private and public sectors alike in the right direction to start addressing these challenges. We are proud to have collaborated withINJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on this study: 13 program facilitators and 18 friends of the work-readiness programs (employers) across MENA and SSA have provided valuable insights on challenges and opportunities in their market. We look forward to leveraging this report to create awareness with employers and drive opportunities for youth across markets.”
JA Africa’s CEO, Simi Nwogugu, said,”Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, making it increasingly important that we develop solutions quickly as the region also has the largest and fastest growing youth population in the world. We are grateful for this partnership with Oliver Wyman which will inform the work we do at JA Africa over the next few years to equip youth with requisite skills for productive employment and entrepreneurship.”
An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) article advises the world about Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation
By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.
As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.
Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.
“Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world?” #DevMattersTweet
Then came March, and a worldwide upheaval as the COVID-19 pandemic struck nations indiscriminately. The official response across the board ranged from well-meaning but knee-jerk, to discriminatory and short-sighted. Some of the strictest lockdowns were implemented in the most congested areas of Gulf cities, where migrants live. However, their labour was considered essential, as the process of nation-building could not be paused. Attempts to decongest were hopeful at best, but the majority continued to live in cramped quarters, were bussed into construction sites, and remained vulnerable to this new infection, as they had been to other infections and health perils.
The women, hundreds of thousands employed as domestic workers, have been invisible at the best of times because their ability to leave home and enjoy an off day or free time has always been at the discretion of their employers. The pandemic guidelines prevented even this thin leeway, with some countries explicitly prohibiting domestic workers from socialising, even when their employers were allowed to. Domestic workers, like a lot of other poorly-paid and badly-treated workers, were considered essential workers. With entire families working and studying from home, their workload increased exponentially. They were also exposed to strong chemical cleaning agents without proper protective gear. While their services were essential, even critical, the individual was considered dispensable and replaceable.
Force majeure rules allowed companies to reduce pay, terminate workers, or put them on leave without pay. Measures were introduced to ensure business continuity even if these measures infringed on workers’ rights. The lack of civil society and trade unions and inability to negotiate collectively –– all disempowering conditions that preceded the pandemic –– meant workers’ voices and representation were limited and muted. No mechanisms were established to challenge the unfair implementation of the measures. Access to justice was riddled with even more problems than before, as wage theft and other labour abuses from the pre-COVID era were yet to be resolved. This post is not even attempting to explore the vulnerabilities and exclusion of undocumented workers –– many of whom are forced into irregularity by the sponsorship or Kafala system.
“When a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.” #DevMattersTweet
In the plethora of webinars that consumed the early months of the pandemic, human rights advocates and activists repeatedly spoke of the lessons being learnt, the new normal that awaited us at the end of the dark tunnel, with ‘building back better’ punctuating every discourse. What they failed to recognise is that when a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.
In fact, we saw the opposite, with migrant workers being blamed for spreading infections, because of their living conditions over which they had no control over. Ten months into the pandemic, it is almost back to business as usual, with malls, offices, schools and even tourism, opening up in stages. Vaccination drives have begun, with a promise to include migrants in all of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. But the most marginalised are still housed in deplorable conditions, their temporariness being reinforced. And the first sector that re-opened for recruitment was domestic work bringing in more women from impoverished countries reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
If there is one takeaway for human rights advocates it is that a socio-economic environment devastated by the pandemic is not fertile ground for righteous policies. If anything, origin and destination countries may go lax on due diligence over corporations in the name of business continuity and impose tighter controls over migrants under the pretext of protection.
“The last year has seen an increase in wage theft, and there is an urgent need for transnational mechanisms to deal with this.”#DevMattersTweet
There are key questions we need to ask ourselves and the governments:
Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world? What combination of policies and prejudices leads to this situation?
With so little public investment made in social welfare, the dependence on live-in domestic workers is only likely to increase. How do we ensure recognition of domestic work as work, and domestic workers as workers, formalising their status in the labour market?
How do we then break the monopoly of live-in domestic work that is inherently exploitative?
The ghettoisation of migrant labour is both the root cause and the result of discrimination. In many Gulf Co-operation Council states, migrants constitute the majority of the population and their needs are deliberately neglected in urban planning.
In the coming years, climate change, population imbalances and economic distress will increase migrants’ vulnerabilities, and solutions cannot be rooted in the current environment of inequity and discrimination.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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