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Racism and Migrant Workers in Ireland

Racism and Migrant Workers in Ireland

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Published by bgeller4936
Ireland, racism, discrimination, prejudice
Ireland, racism, discrimination, prejudice

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: bgeller4936 on Apr 11, 2010
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Racism, and its impact on the lives of migrant workers,is a matter of grave concern for all societies. To create amore equal and socially-inclusive society, racism mustbe addressed both at the individual and institutionallevel. Attempting to address racism only at the level ofthe individual, as is the most common response, fails torecognise the structural nature of this phenomenon.This paper explores racism and how it is manifestedtowards migrant workers in Ireland. Prime examples ofinstitutional racism are evident in accessing public services,employment, ethnic proling, and the impact of the currentrecession in Ireland. The paper does not attempt to address
aspects of racism experienced by Black and minorityethnic groups, including the Traveller community, butfocuses on a number of salient examples. Key recommen-dations for future work and action to counter racism arehighlighted.
The concept of ‘race’ has long been contested. Followingthe rise of population genetics it became universallyaccepted that the concept of ‘race’ and racial inequalityhad no scientic basis. Nevertheless, ‘race’ is still usedin everyday life to demarcate groups, largely accordingto physical appearance and skin colour, but also in termsof ethnicity,culture and national origin. Racism has beendescribed as “conduct or words or practices which disad-vantage or advantage people because of their colour,culture or ethnic origin.
Contemporary Racism
In the contemporary context, racism more commonlyfeatures in nationality-based stereotypes and negativecharacterisations about the cultural attributes of variousgroups of migrant workers, rather than directly invokingthe concept of ‘race’. Cultural differences are generalisedin the same way as traditional biological differences,such as the tendency to behave in a certain way or liveaccording to certain moral values. Stigmatising, stereotypingand racialising the cultures and ways of life of migrantworkers as inferior, or deeming them to be a threat tothe dominant culture, are increasingly incorporated intobiological connotations of difference and superiority.This form of racism, referred to as the ‘new racism’
,focuses on cultural incompatibility as the main reasonwhy integration is not possible and why strict immigrationpolicies and controls are needed.
‘Those immigrants know no better because that ishow they do things over there, in their countries theyare just different than us.’
‘New Racism’ has been reinforced by a focus on multicul-turalism, a popular theme in many EU countries includingIreland. Multiculturalism as a policy promotes the needfor recognition and celebration of different cultures in asociety. Multiculturalism has often involved activities,such as providing supports for cultural expression andmulticultural events. It says little about either the situationor the status of the members of different cultures, it onlyimplies their presence.As a consequence of such policies, the responsibility tointegrate or adapt to the dominant culture is placed on theshoulder of the migrant workers who are constructed asthe ‘subject’ of the integration process. The responsibilityfor failure to properly integrate is placed on migrant workers.A key criticism of this multicultural approach is the rein-forcement of the generalisation of cultural differences andthe inherent failure of such policies to address individualand institutional racism.
page 01
01 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, 199902 Martin Barker,
The New Racism 
, 1981
Migrant Rights Centre Irelandwww.mrci.iePolicy Paper 2010
Individual and Institutional Racism
Racism operates at both an individual and an institutionallevel. Individual or direct forms of racism can range fromverbal name calling to violent physical abuse. By contrast,institutional forms of racism refer to institutional actions,i.e. policies and practices that are discriminatory orindifferent to the needs and requirements of minorityethnic groups, including migrant workers.There is a direct link between individual and institutionalracism. Individuals are either enabled or excluded bythe way a society and the institutions of society operate.Individuals are racist consciously or unconsciously, mainlyas a result of acting on the belief that certain people aresuperior or inferior based on their membership of aparticular group. These attitudes are often developedthrough education, and through formal and informalprocesses. There are many factors which contribute tothe development of these attitudes at the individual level,such as the negative portrayal of certain groups in society,their invisibility within public and political systems, theimpact of discriminatory policies and practices, and theprivilege bestowed on some members of society who havecertain characteristics (e.g. white, full citizenship, settled).The State, politicians and the media, through sensationalistand inammatory headlines, are paramount in generatingand reinforcing racism. These groups have the power todene the social world and impose a framework withinwhich migrants and their families are perceived andevaluated. Laws, policies, rules and resources also have adirect bearing on shaping public attitudes towards migrantworkers. Institutions are directly responsible for creatingthe conditions in which migrant workers will have eitherequal or unequal opportunities and outcomes withinsociety.
Racism and intersection withmultiple forms of discrimination
Historically, discrimination based on ethnicity, ‘race’,gender and other forms have been seen as parallel,but distinct, forms of discrimination. In recent years,however, there is a recognition that factors such as age,disability, ethnicity, and socio-economic status can alsocompound discrimination. Failure to recognise these fac-tors and how they intersect, results in poor and inadequateresponses. For instance, migrant women, like women in allparts of society, are in an unequal position at an individual,community and societal level. This, combined with racismexperienced in the workplace and in accessing services,places them at a much greater risk of exclusion anddisadvantage.
A group of migrant women were employed as mush-room pickers. Their employer informed them that ifany woman had a relationship with an Irish man shewould be immediately sent home. A number of menwere also employed and this rule did not apply tothem. When one woman became pregnant she wasdismissed, and arrangements made for her to leavethe country.
Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country.The Irish workforce is composed of approximately 15%non-Irish nationals and it is estimated that there are188 different nationalities in the State (CSO 2006).Racial discrimination, both in terms of everyday abuseand discrimination and exclusion within Irish institutions,is becoming more widespread. In a survey carried out in2001, almost 80% of individuals from Black or ethnicminority groups living in Ireland claimed they hadexperienced some form of racism or discrimination.Many of these discriminatory attacks were not one-off orincidental occurrences. Rather, they constituted a featureof everyday life for migrants, occurring in a variety of socialsituations: in employment, in pubs, from neighbours, inbanks, on buses and taxis, accessing housing, in themedia, in education and schools, in health, from theGardaí, at the cinema and in accessing goods and servicesgenerally.
Other studies have suggested that levels ofdiscrimination have not diminished.
A recent report bythe EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that Irelandwas among the top ve countries in the EU when it cameto racial discrimination and abuse. 73% of those surveyedfrom Sub-Saharan Africa stated they had experiencedracism in Ireland, as did 25% of those from Central andEastern Europe.
Racism and employment
Migrant workers have been hindered from accessingemployment because of racism. Non-Irish nationalsare three times more likely to experience discriminationwhile looking for work, while Black people are seven timesmore likely. Moreover, in the workplace non-Irish nationalsare twice as likely to experience discrimination as Irishnationals.
32% of work permit holders reported harass-ment and insults at work, constituting the second mostcommon form of discrimination.
03 Irish Centre for Human Rights and Amnesty International,
Breaking Down Barriers: Tackling Racism in Ireland at the Level of the State and its Institutions 
,200604 ESRI and Equality Authority,
Immigrants at Work: Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market 
, 2008. ESRI,
The Labour Market Characteristics and Labour Market Impacts of Immigrants in Ireland 
, 200605 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS), 200906 ESRI and Equality Authority,
Immigrants at Work: Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market 
, 200807 ESRI,
The Labour Market Characteristics and Labour Market Impacts of Immigrants in Ireland 
, 2006
Migrant Rights Centre Irelandwww.mrci.iePolicy Paper 2010page 02
Nasir worked in a restaurant where he was exploited.When Nasir tried to leave he was told he would bedeported as he would be ‘illegal’. He was also toldthat no other employer would get a work permit forhim as Ireland is a small place.
There is considerable evidence to show that migrantworkers experience difculties asserting their employmentrights, and are vulnerable to racism in the workplace. Theway the work permit system is designed, which binds amigrant worker to a particular employer, exacerbates thisvulnerability.Racism can range from a person being treated less favour-ably to fellow employees, in terms of pay and associatedwork privileges, to situations of extreme exploitation andforced labour. Work environments that are unwelcomingand are sharply divided on ethnic lines fuel racial tensionand generally deliver unequal outcomes for migrantworkers employed in such situations. For migrantwomen there is the additional concern of genderdiscrimination, such as experiences of unequal pay,sexual harassment, and pregnancy-related discrimination.Accessing redress for migrant workers is especiallydifcult, with a waiting period in the Equality Tribunal oftwo years, compounded by the absence of interpretatingsupports in the Labour Relations Commission andEmployment Appeals Tribunal.
Accessing public services
Unequal treatment in accessing public services has adirect bearing on the lived experiences and social statusof any individual or groups. While most frontline serviceproviders are respectful and aim to deliver services withoutprejudice, direct experiences of racism are a reality formany migrant workers. This can take many different forms,such as the manner and tone used by ofcials, prejudicedbehaviour and being denied services.
Asma was trafcked for forced labour in Ireland.While her case was being investigated, Asma triedto avail of the support services provided for victims oftrafcking, such as emergency accommodation. Whenshe presented her case to the Community WelfareOfcer, she was told that she has no right to stayin Ireland and was not entitled to any support.
Racism in the delivery of public services is also evident inthe policies shaping access to these services. The HabitualResidency Condition (HRC) is of particular concern formigrant workers. Migrant worker eligibility for essentialsupports and services is predicated on meeting a numberof restrictive criteria and not on economic need. The HRCmay appear to be blind to ‘race’ and nationality becauseall applicants for assistance must satisfy the condition.However, the discretionary nature of HRC criteria leads tomigrant workers being disproportionately affected by itsapplication, and contributes to them being pushed furtherinto poverty. The initial introduction of the HRC in 2005 isbelieved to have been informed by a tabloid media cam-paign against workers from the EU accession countriesbeing allowed to work in the UK and Ireland.
Ethnic and racial proling
Ethnic and racial proling involves the use of certaincharacteristics and generalisations, usually grounded inethnicity, colour, religion or national origin, in order toidentify a person. Although it is difcult to ascertainprecise levels, various reports and anecdotal evidenceindicate that ethnic proling of immigrants is increasing.The European Union Minorities and Discrimination Surveyidentied that the rate at which people from Sub SaharanAfrica are being arbitrarily stopped and asked for identica-tion in Ireland was the highest for any ethnic minority inthe EU.
Jane lives and works in Donegal. She has been livingin Ireland for decades and has full citizenship. Whenshe travels to Dublin by bus she is sometimes targetedby immigration ofcials who regularly carry out spotchecks at the border with Northern Ireland. She feelsthat the only basis for her being selected over othersis her skin colour.
Justication for ethnic and racial proling is often made onthe basis of countering terrorism, criminality and irregularmigration. There are, however, a number of studies thatseriously question the effectiveness of ethnic proling(Open Justice Society). It is already the practice of theGarda National Immigration Bureau to collect biometricinformation which is included in the certicates of regis-tration, and the forthcoming Immigration, Residence andProtection Bill proposes that non-Irish nationals will berequired to carry identication at all times. It is unclearhow Irish citizens, including those who are Black or haveacquired citizenship will be treated, given that citizensare not required to carry identication at all times.
Reporting racist incidents
The incidence of recorded racist crime fell by 21% to180 incidents in 2008. While this would appear to indicatedecreasing levels of racism, in reality NGOs have experi-enced signicant difculties in reporting incidents of racismto the Gardaí. In practice, the majority of racist incidents fallinto the category of verbal harassment, which is difcult toverify. In addition, many migrants are reluctant to reportracist incidents to Gardaí who also act as immigrationofcers. Since the closure of National ConsultativeCommittee on Racism and Interculturalism in December2008, Ireland is without a national reporting mechanismother than through the system in place through An GardaSíochána.
Migrant Rights Centre Irelandwww.mrci.iePolicy Paper 2010page 03

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