CRY OF A MIGRANT
Winner of Unite Trade Union History Festival Literary Price
Eastbourne, February 2009
By Marissa Begonia
It was hot sunny mid-day in April 1994; an ice cream man passed by in front of our house, my children ages 3, 2 and 1 upon hearing the sound of cling, cling, and cling! They knew that was an ice cream, they started to cry when I told them that we had no money to buy one which cost 1peso only at that time.
As I couldn’t stop them from crying, I cried hugging them. How painful it was when I couldn’t even afford to buy an ice cream and I always had this worst fear that one day they would be starve.
Walking along the high way of metro manila were street children everywhere begging, selling flowers in the most dangerous place for their own survival and worst these innocent lives are being victims of sex and drugs traffic, “How could these children be the hope of a nation?” I asked myself. It frightened me more upon looking at my own children to be in the situation like these.
I would always tell myself they will never be street children that they have a mother to protect and take care of them. In a corrupt country like Philippines there were no jobs that will give us a salary that could be enough to give a family to live decently which means, enough food that we don’t have to worry we have food to eat tomorrow, proper education to ensure the future of our children, clothing, hospitalization for everyone to be treated in accurate time and be given the right medicine and care; a decent house not made of cardboard, not pieces of woods but bricks, a comfortable bed to sleep not sleeping on the floor with a piece of cloth or mat.
We have to find our own way out to escape poverty. Determine to give my children the decent living which they deserved, I came upon to choose between family and a job that will provide my children a better life and a better future. It was the most difficult and painful decision to leave my family behind in search for a decent job in a foreign land where I was even unsure of what kind of life awaits me but this was the only way I could think of.
I could hear my children cried as I walked away from them, I shut my ears, with tears in my eyes I open my heart filled with love and hope for my children that they will never be starve and they will never suffer the way I did. Living in a foreign land was far difficult than I expected, I could hardly swallow the food; it was very hard living without my children. At first I wasn’t even sure if I would be safe behind this close door but the only thing I knew at that time I need to survive no matter how difficult, lonely and frightening the life could be I had to survive.
Days, months and years passed by, no one and nothing could fill the emptiness in me of living away from my family but again I left with no choice. Life was tough and can be cruel with the rise of unemployment and low wages continue to strike the people back home, the rise of exporting manpower instead of goods and materials continue as well, settling back home seems I could find no answer.
This is a migrant life, I may able to give my children whatever they may need and ask for but the sacrifices in exchange of all these is far cruel, I was not there to take care of them when they were sick, I never see them grow, I couldn’t help them with their homework and worst I could only show my love through materials things but I hope they do understand that everything I do is for them. How I long for one day we will all be together but I know someday in this cruel world we will be. Migrant or second class citizen I may be, I am one of the migrants who cry for any injustices and abuse in job, labor law and fellow mankind; these injustices we continue to suffer and struggle knowing we have the rights to fight and win.
Migrants play a very important role in the society, together within a different culture, language, race and stories; we embrace, help and unite one another to make this place a better and happy place to live for everyone for a brighter tomorrow for the new generation.
MY LIFE IN THE UNION
Whilst working as a Mitie cleaner in London I joined the T&G section of Unite the union in February 2005. Later I was able to enrol on a Shop Stewards course. This was while the Justice for Cleaners Campaign had feverishly begun.
A series of meetings were held in my building organised by the unions Organisers to help organise and educate the members on what the campaign was all about. Though the hard efforts of myself and my fellow Shop Stewards of the Goldman Sachs buildings all the workers became aware of the motive of the campaign, which were the London Living Wage, Respect, Sick Pay etc,. All of which the management were reluctant to move towards. The meetings and education were intensified to prepare the members for the eventual demonstration in the enforcement of our demands.
The break through came at the time Mitie had to bid to renew its contract. Mitie, offered us the Sick Pay issue to cool down the aroused tension and prevent the staff from sabotaging their bid to win the Goldman Sachs contract. The union and local Mitie management met, for the first time, for negotiations which included the introduction of new working practices and the matter of the London Living wage. A trial period of three months was agreed for the new working methods at the end of which the workers realised the promise of the London Living Wage and other benefits were a hoaxes.
The workers were ready to demonstrate which could have lead to Mitie losing the contract. The Directors of Mitie, sensing the danger, interceded and took over negotiations. After several meetings an agreement was reached. We won our fight for the London Living Wage at £6.70 (an increase of 50p p/h), we had also won the right to cover pay which we only dreamed of. In addition the manager who conducted the original negotiations was removed.
The Justice for Cleaners Campaign, which came to alleviate the struggles of cleaners in Canary Wharf, the City of London and the Tube, gave a voice to a workforce that until now had been invisible. Through education the cleaners were empowered and encouraged to stand up against there employers. They had the skills to talk to their employers about their welfare.
As the saying goes ‘Knowledge is Power’. By being able to access education through the T&G and now Unite the Union I have been able to support my fellow cleaners. Education has been the driving force to the success of the campaign. The cleaning industry in London is dominated by migrants with English as a second Language. To overcome this and to support the campaign the union organised ESOL, IT, Literacy and Numeracy classes. And as one of the first Union Learning Reps for the Justice for Cleaners Campaign and Branch Secretary I have encouraged by workmates to attend the free weekend classes held at the Holborn Office. From 2007 to 2010 the Migrant Workers Project (MWP) grew to include other migrant groups Justice for Domestic Workers, Chinese Migrant Network and Branch 1647 (London Hotel and Catering Branch).
In April 2010 the four groups came together to form the United Migrant Workers Education Project (UMWEP) under the umbrella of Unite the Union. Owing to funding difficulties and the governments’ restrictions on migrants’ access to education, UMWEP devised the Alternative Education Model. This programme, of ESOL, IT, Numeracy, Literacy, Art, Dance, Drama, English Pronunciation and a number of specialist workshops such as Health for Women draws from the community volunteer tutors to deliver an informal education curriculum that has a thread of social justice through each topic. UMWEP and the MWP can boast to have trained almost 2000 learners to a level of being able to read their employment contracts, terms and conditions and have the confidence to stand for justice.
As a result of the education I have received from Unite I have had the opportunity to, represent my fellow cleaners, speak at rallies and meetings, one of which, was up to 2500 people. I was invited to speak in Nagasaki, Japan and Toulouse, France on behalf of the Service Sector on the subjects of Organising at Grass Roots Level and Young People. I sit on the London and East Regional Committee as the BAEM Territorial Rep. I represent my region on the Executive Council and I am proud to say I sit on the Education Sub Committee.
Branch Secretary LE/2007
Workplace Rep, ULR, H&S Rep
Service Not Servitude
17 October 2011
Nuraine Abdul Salam, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW
Before Fiona Mactaggart, MP and Mathew Lawrence
Nuraeni Abdul Salam
Looking back 20 years ago, my family had to struggle for our daily food. Life was hard; I had to stop studying because my father became ill. Most people in our village in Indonesia would go to Saudi Arabia and work there because back home there was no job with salary could be enough to sustain our living. I was 18 years old when I first applied, as the eldest among my 2 brothers , I had to help my family so my father could have his medication and my siblings would have food to eat and hoping I could afford to send them to school so they won’t be like me. I had to pay 1 million rupees about less than £100, this amount maybe too small but for us who struggled to survive was big. My contract was 2 years within this period I had no day off and could only go home after I finished my contract.
It was hard, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere as I started to count the days of longing to go home but I want a better life for my family. My salary was only 600 riyals or £100/month, I start to work at 7am and finished at midnight with no rest periods, I was too tired hoping it midnight soon. But years have passed the economic situation in Indonesia is worst, my short term plan to work abroad became long term my salary was just enough to feed my family, I couldn’t even save money for my own life and future.
My last employer in Saudi Arabia whom I worked for 8 years brought me here in the UK with the same terms and conditions, no day off and £100/month for a 7am-11pm work. I talk to my employer to increase my salary but she didn’t agree. At this period, I also had a chance to know my rights as domestic worker in the UK because I met fellow domestic workers whenever I’m out with the family. They gave me number to call if ever I would need. I have to think of my future also, even I worked fr life with that employer they will never increase my salary so it was time for me to leave and I called the number, she helped me and I also registered at Kalayaan.
I found a new employer in countryside 3 storey house with 13 rooms, my duties include aside from house work, cleaning the swimming pool, washing 4 cars and gardening even in the winter, I had to do this for a salary of £170/week. I couldn’t stay in this situation because it’s hard work. I found a new employer, I was promised they would pay my tax and NI but then when I applied to renew my domestic worker visa, I needed a contract so my employer let me signed but she didn’t let me see what is written in the contract and when I asked about the tax and NI, she said it was not her responsibility to pay tax. I left this employer because Home office asked for a letter from my employer confirming that she will pay tax and NI and she refused to give me that letter. I was lucky enough to find another one before my visa expired. I have now good salary and better working and living conditions.
Having met my fellow domestic workers in Justice for Domestic Workers has given me more knowledge about our rights as worker, the importance of having one another to help and support and stand up for our own rights. We do everything on Sundays, I remit money to my family back home, go to church and attend our classes, activities and meetings in Unite, Holborn, a union that sheltered, educate and campaign with us for our rights. Every Sunday we listened to the horror of abuse of our fellow domestic workers but so long we have the escape route and bargaining power to access our basic rights and protection, like us who are here with you, with the domestic worker visa our lives were saved, rebuild and improved.
We call for all your support please write or talk to you MPs how important to keep all the rights of Domestic Workers.
We call on the Government to keep the domestic worker visa, do not take back that has been proven and acknowledged the best prevention of human trafficking, forced labour and slavery.
We call for on the UK Government to free our fellow domestic workers in diplomatic households, like us they are also workers.
We call for the ratification of the ILO Convention 189 decent work for all domestic workers in the world. Justice for Domestic workers along with our allies will fight for A No Return to slavery! No Return to slavery, We are workers!!!