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Opinion: Migrants are forced to do the worst work without access to rights

Youth Against Racism and Inequality (YARI) activist writes that immigrants and people of colour are leading the force for change internationally.

Haritha Olaganathan Youth Against Racism and Inequality (YARI)

A WORLD SLOWED-DOWN has exposed the deep-rooted inequalities in the Irish state, and we must grapple with the fact that the ‘land of a thousand welcomes’ is one that consciously ostracises people of colour, immigrants and Travellers in the world of work.

Under the current system, far too many of the employees deemed ‘essential’ enough to put their health on the wheel everyday are not considered worthy of lives free from precarity and financial stress.

Workers in healthcare, childcare, education, factories, fast-food and supermarkets have kept communities alive over the past year, yet are among the most underpaid and overworked.

  • The Noteworthy team wants to investigate racism in Irish workplaces and recruitment processes. See how you can support this project here.

These conditions worsen in immigrant-dominated sectors. The first lockdown saw numerous Covid-19 clusters reported at crowded meat processing plants. The disregard for employees’ health and safety is also demonstrated through pay: even workers who have dedicated up to 15 years to the industry don’t take home a living wage.

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) found that 62% of meat plant workers faced discrimination in the factories. One worker noted:

All of the time, we are forced to do the worst and heaviest work because we are migrants and don’t have access to rights and because we don’t speak English.

Locked in cycles of instability

These disparities in already downtrodden conditions further divide workers, to prevent them from unionising against their collective exploitation.

They also remain hidden; most workers don’t report racist, sexist or religious discrimination out of fear, and knowledge that 96% of the workers brave enough to complain didn’t see any action taken.

This peddles the notion that people of colour should expect discrimination and to tolerate not being tolerated.

Youth Against Racism and Inequality (YARI) activists have noticed in our own circles that as workers of colour, we can only find temporary, part-time or casual work, especially as black non-Irish nationals are five times more likely to experience discrimination when seeking work than their white Irish counterparts.

We are locked in cycles of instability, in an era where instability can be life-threatening.

Unemployment – at 80% – is shockingly stark for Travellers, who often need to mask their identity in order to stand a chance of getting a job interview. This can include using a settled address, changing their accent and fashion, or simply hiding family and friends from conversations.

One of our activists’ mother is a hairdresser who recruited a local Mincéirí woman on a part-time basis. Despite the young woman’s aptitude for the job, she faced constant discrimination, from customers against ‘Travellers working here’.

Thankfully the hairdressers refused to give in to this blatant racism, but this discrimination takes serious tolls on young Travellers’ mental health, and further propagates the number of businesses who refuse to recruit them.

Recent discussions on the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence has highlighted the rates of sexual harassment in the workplace, especially in precarious and customer-facing roles such as hospitality and retail. The specific fetishisation of “exotic” immigrant gender-oppressed people and those of colour makes us doubly vulnerable.

One YARI member works in retail in Dublin city centre and all of her colleagues are fellow half-Asians. Customers will frequently throw anti-Asian slurs at the young women, such as “g**k” and “ch*nk”. Men will regularly try to ask them for sex, citing dreams of “trying an Asian girl”.

Many Asian women are assumed to be sex workers due to their sexualisation in capitalist media and especially porn. Women of colour generally are portrayed as existing solely to please men, who feel entitled to their bodies.

‘Changing the things I cannot accept’

Do we trust the world’s governments and capitalists to end racism for us? YARI have no illusions in a system drowning in inequality, one that has put the greed of a tiny number of billionaires above the lives and health of ordinary people during the pandemic.

Revolutionary activist Angela Davis’ most famous quote resurfaced online last summer: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.” The lines could not be more relevant today.

Immigrants and people of colour are leading the force for change internationally – especially youth.

We have seen countless brave and bold actions over the past year, whether it be school students protesting for Black Lives Matter or Deliveroo workers organising days of strike to take a stand against the pay, conditions and harassment they face. Yet these individual actions can only win gains through sustained struggle. The specific anti-unionisation drive from Deliveroo’s owners, for example, blocks workers from organising concretely.

Organising concretely means discussions and actions in schools, workplaces and communities. It is diverse pools of Amazon workers waging battles to unionise in Alabama. It is students in YARI organising protests against a discriminatory education system.

Organising concretely means that all working-class people show solidarity with those of us oppressed by racism – understanding that we are stronger together, and in order to fully challenge inequality, we must challenge the system inequality stems from.

Haritha Olaganathan is a socialist feminist activist with Youth Against Racism and Inequality in Dublin. They are organising a press conference outside the Dáil tomorrow to demand Justice for George Nkencho, following his death at the hands of the Gardaí. Keep updated with YARI on Instagram @antiracism.irl 

RACISM AT WORK Investigation 

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Is ethnic discrimination placing barriers before people in the workplace?

Through Noteworthy, we want to spotlight the experiences of people who have suffered incidents of racism in the labour force; in job applications or interviews, on the job, in the area of promotion, progression or training in the workplace.

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About the author:

Haritha Olaganathan  / Youth Against Racism and Inequality (YARI)

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