Where we stand‎ > ‎Media Releases‎ > ‎

Is Indentureship well and alive in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009?

posted 15 Oct 2009, 02:05 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Oct 2009, 07:38 ]

 by Norris Deonarine, Rights Action Group Tel: 774-1276
It is with great distress that I read and heard of the facedown between the Police and foreign Chinese labourers yesterday.

The news stories painted an even more horrific picture. There were photographs of police officers dressed in full riot gear, body armour, gas masks, carrying sub-machine guns, and canisters of tear gas. And, the reason for this overkill was a peaceful march by about 70 protesting foreign Chinese workers who were walking along a highway and then sitting on grass verges.

It is a frightening concept to accept that in this day and age, the state machinery can be used to suppress peoples’ rights to peaceful protest for their basic rights. And, we should not presume that workers from all parts of the world do not have the same basic rights whether or not their countries have ratified the international conventions enshrining basic rights for all. T and T is a signatory and that is what matters.

There are major and legitimate concerns about the influx of Chinese workers and the impact on local employment opportunities. Don’t blame the Chinese workers for that. At the same time, we ought to be concerned about the rights of poor people who have come from thousands of miles away to earn some money to take back home at the end of their contracts with firms that are closely affiliated with if not owned outright by their own State – China. Decades ago, peoples from the Caribbean followed a similar economic pattern, moving to Aruba, Maracaibo, Panama, the US, Canada and the UK. Surely, we are saddened when we hear of the hardships they endured as foreign workers. Should we not feel the same way about other poor people desperate to escape poverty in their own homeland?

The thing is that the Chinese workers here are probably totally ignorant of the PNM’s policies on rapid and corrupt development. They probably did not read Selwyn Ryan’s article on Sunday last – ―Many of the edificial modernisation projects are now seen for what they are - empty monuments to hubris.‖ They are probably not aware that back home, their compatriots are agitating against dangerous smelters that are ruining their lives as they have concerns similar to the people of La Brea and T&T about the Alutrint smelter. However, they feel the pain of the criminality rampant in this country. They feel the pain of living in cramped quarters with little utilities, isolated almost as hostages, passports withheld, working under slavery-like and indentureship conditions, on top of not receiving their pittance pay on time.

As citizens of this country we call on the PNM Government to desist from using the state apparatus of the Police to support exploitation and suppress dissent. Dissent is a Right not a privilege granted by any state.

As citizens of the world, we call on the Chinese Government to ensure the safe return of the workers to their homes and not into some re-orientation camp.

As we approach the celebration of Divali – the time of enlightenment, of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, we call on all citizens to welcome the Chinese in your area to a meal. To speak out against this treatment meted out to them. Otherwise, we will remain in an age of darkness.

With all due respect to and apologies for badly paraphrasing Pastor Martin Neimoller:

Then they came for the activists and trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an activist or trade unionist. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up.

The Government should be smart enough to know that they cannot send their military arms of the state machinery for us, ready to create mayhem and havoc with the rights of citizens to dissent, protest and speak out loud as we try to cope with the downward spiral of our homeland. Everyone has the right of dissent. No one must be silenced.

October 14, 2009