Indentured labour

| 05/08/2008

Article 23, Clause 1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against employment.

As always in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, readers are left to decide who "everyone" is meant to be. Common sense tells us it means everyone in a nation, and not everyone in just some small part of it – some island, territory, suburb or parish; but where is the line to be drawn between citizens and visitors?

When national governments allow the entry of migrant workers, what protection are those workers entitled to? Well, in some degree it depends on what restrictions are placed on their initial employment. All nations have the right, and the duty, to protect their citizens from predatory pricing in respect of wages and conditions by low-paid migrants. No independent nation is obliged to allow migrants to come in and take work away from its citizens.

Sometimes, as a condition of their entry, migrants must agree to work for specified employers, and a state authority issues the appropriate licences (indentures) to the lucky employers.

The law in Cayman, as administered under the supervision of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), doesn’t recognise any migrant worker’s right to free choice of employment. A master is allowed to release a migrant from his indentured service — or not, as the master chooses. A master also has the power to expel a worker from Cayman without compensation, and the FCO tacitly approves of that practice.

It is a matter of some indignation among legitimate human-rights advocates.

(Whether it is or isn’t legal under the UK Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is a matter for lawyers to argue, and does not concern us here. The Universal Declaration was written for non-lawyers to read and be inspired by, and it is the basis of this series of essays.)

The FCO’s position on the rights of migrant workers has changed radically over the past fifty years. In 1955 the FCO persuaded Canada to take some indentured domestic servants from the Caribbean colonies. After some false starts, both the FCO and Canada agreed that indentured service was offensive to the human-rights standards of the day, and all the servants were released from their bondage and allowed to change employers and occupations at their own initiative.

Today, the FCO offers no protection of, or means of defence to, Cayman’s indentured domestic servants. Abuse by masters is acceptable to the FCO. When free choice of employment is not an option, and just and favourable conditions of work are at the complete discretion of the masters, Article 23 of the Declaration is a dead letter.

Finally, we must remind ourselves that Cayman is not a nation, and doesn’t have citizens. It is part of the United Kingdom, and it is the UK Government’s responsibility to give protection against unemployment to all UK subjects living here. That requires givingthose subjects priority over everyone else.

Despite regular cries for autonomy from an extremist minority, Cayman remains legally a part of Britain. Our Legislative Assembly is not the equivalent of the UK Parliament; it is more like the equivalent of the Luton Town Council. Any and all of our local by-laws can be cancelled with the stroke of a London pencil.

So, according to the principles of the Universal Declaration, the rights of all British citizens are equal in Cayman. Our Immigration Law defies Article 23 when it excludes UK citizens from equal protection with Caymanians.

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  1. Kerry Horek says:

    Are you kidding me!!  Mr. Barlow, can you explain to me why you feel that we are not a nation?  Do you see a Caymanian acting like a British national?  No you don’t and if you do find one he is only pretending in order to get invited back to the tea party; and is simply what we would call a ‘sell-out’.  I once respected your commentary many years ago when you wrote for another newspaper but now I have to say your comments disgust me.  Are you also telling me that some of the UK citizens that turn up on our shores who need the Caymanian to train them to do their job in many aspects should have more rights to that job than a Caymanian? 

    Considering this NATION has been your home for so long and you have profited and benefited from so much of which it offered to you.  I an INDIGENIOUS CAYMANIAN of this NATION find your words hostile.  Are you telling me that my passport and birth papers are all false and meaningless?  It appears your words are of  a ‘soft treason’.  Well, if that is the case I suggest you don’t buck your toe when you enter the door of the travel agency to get your one way ticket back to the homeland!!!

    If you don’t love us – leave us just the way you found us!!

    For all things Caymanian.

    Kerry Horek – no I don’t have this last name from a Status Grant.

    I doubt this will be published in this media because that is how the system works against Caymanians who voice their opinions.