#279      34 min 45 sec
Willingly waived: Migrant workers trading away rights for access to jobs

Labor migration researcher Dr Martin Ruhs discusses the often thorny questions around the rights of migrant labor versus access to work. With host Peter Mares.

"What I find unacceptable is to have an arrangement of permanent second class status as you have it in the Gulf States. In general, I think that if you want to run a temporary migration program that brings in large numbers of migrant workers under restricted rights, you can only do that for a relatively short and limited period of time." -- Dr Martin Ruhs




Dr Martin Ruhs
Dr Martin Ruhs

Dr Martin Ruhs is University Lecturer in Political Economy at the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, and Senior Researcher at the Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS).  Martin is also an Associate Member of the Department of Economics, the Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the Blavatnik School of Government.

Martin's research focuses on the economics and politics of international labour migration, with a strong international comparative dimension. Recent books include The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration (Princeton University Press 2013) and Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration and Public Policy (co-edited with Bridget Anderson, Oxford University Press, 2010 and 2012).

Martin has provided policy analysis and advice for various national governments and international institutions including the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, the European Commission and the Swedish Presidency of the European Union. In 2008-09 he was Specialist Advisor to an inquiry by the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords into the economic impacts of immigration. During 2009-12, he was the first Director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory. Martin is currently a member of the UK’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent body of five academic economists tasked to advise the UK government on labour immigration policy.

Credits

Host: Peter Mares
Producers: Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Kelvin Param & Eric van Bemmel

View Tags  click a tag to find other episodes associated with it.

 Download mp3 (31.8 MB)

VOICEOVER 
Welcome to Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

PETER MARES 
I'm Peter Mares thanks for joining us. Every day around the world people cross borders in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. They mostly move from poorer countries to richer countries, from places of high unemployment to places where jobs are more plentiful, from low wage to high wage economies. For example, there are around 170,000 Bangladeshis working in the Arabian Gulf state of Qatar, many of them labouring to build venues for the 2022 Football World Cup, and there are more than 200,000 foreign maids working in Singapore who mostly come from the Philippines and Indonesia. Often these migrant workers travel alone and live separated from loved ones for long periods of time. They may encounter tough working conditions or face discrimination, and they may find that their rights are severely restricted.Yet millions make such journeys nonetheless, and millions more would willingly join them if granted an opportunity. Today on Up Close we discuss migrants' rights and migrants' access to jobs. Is there an inevitable trade-off between these two things? In other words if workers from poor countries want to get jobs in richer nations, will they have to sign away some of their rights? Is that an acceptable compromise, or does it offend fundamental notions of human dignity and equality. One person who's done a lot of thinking about these questions is Martin Ruhs, senior researcher at Oxford University's Centre on Migration Policy and Society, known by its acronym as COMPAS. Dr Ruhs is also an author of The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labour Migration. Martin Ruhs joins us today by Skype. Martin, welcome to Up Close.

MARTIN RUHS 
Hello, it's great to be on the program.

PETER MARES 
How many migrant workers are there in the world today?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well the latest statistics that we have from the United Nations suggests there's about 230 million migrants and half of whom are migrant workers. So roughly about 120 million migrant workers in the world.

PETER MARES 
How big is the latent demand for migration? I mean how many people do you think would like to migrate given an opportunity?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's an excellent question. It's hard to say, but we do know that various opinion polls that try to find out people's intentions - so they ask people if they want to migrate abroad - suggest that potential numbers could be very large. So recently Gallup carried out a global survey which suggested that 15 per cent of the world's adults would consider moving abroad permanently, that's 700 million people. Now of course, we have to treat these surveys with a grain of salt. Not everybody who says that they want to go would actually go if given the opportunity. But still there's a very large number of people, especially but not only in low income countries, who would love to access labour markets in high income countries.

PETER MARES 
Can we quantify the benefits of labour migration?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well it is possible to calculate costs and benefits for specific groups and receiving countries and sending countries. The problem with aggregate assessments always is that you need to decide what priority and what importance you give to different groups. So many countries, for example including the UK, Australia, Canada, the US, have tried to carry out aggregate impact assessments. So the question is, in the aggregate, does immigration benefit or harm the economy. Now as soon as you do that, you are looking at labour market impact, you're looking at fiscal impact, you're looking at effects for employers, workers, and you need to decide how do you put all those together. So it is possible to analyse what these various different effects are, but the difficulty is with aggregating them.

PETER MARES 
But we can also see things I suppose like remittances, the money that migrant workers send back to their home country, those sorts of things?

MARTIN RUHS 
Absolutely, I mean what we can say with certainty in a way is that for a worker in a low income country to move to a high income country, this move is associated with very large income gains for that worker. Many workers in the Gulf States for example are earning five, six, seven times what they could earn in their home countries, and the remittances that they send home are of tremendous potential benefit for their families. They can build houses, they can send their children to school, and they could under certain circumstances also help with the development of their home countries, even though that link between migration and development is somewhat more contested than the direct link between migration and household income. And the World Bank argues that there's no more effective strategy for raising the wages and household incomes of poor workers and families in low income countries than given them the opportunity to access work in high income countries.So for migrants and their families, migration – global migration, is tremendously beneficial economically. 

PETER MARES 
In fact I think in terms of sort of global development, doesn't the World Bank argue that freeing up migration would have a much greater overall benefit than freeing up world trade?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's absolutely right, and the reason is that in comparison to trade and international capital flows, international migration is much more restricted. So if you look at the share of exports and world GDP, world output, depending on how you measure it it's between 20 and 30 per cent. If you look at the share of global foreign direct investment and the global capital stock, again you get the number between 20 and 30 per cent. But if you look at the number of migrants in the world's population, it's only three per cent. And because migration is much more restricted than trade and capital flows, what that means is that the differences between wages of workers across countries - so for example the differences in wages between a taxi driver in Mumbai and a taxi driver in London are much greater than the differences between prices of commodities produced in different countries and also interest rates, so returns on capital between different countries.And because these differences in wages are so large, freeing up migration is associated with much larger income gains than further liberalisation of international trade and capital flows would be.

PETER MARES 
The problem of course is that the importation of labour is fundamentally different to the importation of goods in the sense that you can allow a lot more fridges or tomatoes or paper clips into your country without changing the society all that much. But migrants aren't just a product, they're people. They have tastes and habits, desires, needs to be met. They have different languages and beliefs. So they're very presence actually can transform the lives of existing residents.

MARTIN RUHS 
Well that's exactly right, and I think some economists don't fully appreciate the point that, as you say, migrants are not just paper clips or potatoes, and one fundamental difference - for example international capital flows - is that with migration, you have the owner of the factory production move with the factory. So the migrant moves with the labour service across borders. So you have people moving. People are moving and are establishing themselves in different countries, and they have all kinds of social impacts and importantly they claim rights vis-à-vis the host country. So the host country needs to decide what rights do you grant migrant workers after they've been admitted. These types of questions don't arise at least as much with international trade and international investment.

PETER MARES 
So do host countries make a trade-off then? Do they say okay, we'll let in X number of workers, but we'll restrict their rights, the things they can do in the country after they arrive?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well that's precisely the question that I've been interested in for a few years now, and in my book The Price of Rights I have looked at labour immigration policies in over 46 high income countries to try to investigate the relationship between how open immigration policies are to admitting migrant workers on the one hand and what rights they grant to migrants on the other. And I did indeed find a tension in many countries' policies between openness and access and some rights. So that means that the countries that were more open to admitting migrant workers were also the countries that were more restrictive with regard to migrant rights. On the other hand, countries that insisted on equality of rights often ended up admitting very few migrant workers. Just to give you an example, the typical high numbers, low rights policies are found in the Middle-East, in the Gulf States.Many of the Gulf States such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar are admitting very large numbers of migrant workers, but severely restricting their rights.

PETER MARES 
In some of those states in fact migrant workers massively outnumber domestic residents?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right. In most of the Gulf States actually, citizens are in the minority, and especially private sector employment, is almost 100 per cent migrant workers. If you look at United Arab Emirates, Kuwait where I've spent a little bit of time studying immigration, I mean basically 100 per cent of these private sectors are staffed by migrants. The reason is that because of the oil wealth, citizens in these countries are basically given a guarantee of employment in the public sector, and migrants are used to work in the private sector. As a result of that, wages and conditions between public and private sector are very different indeed.

PETER MARES 
So as you say, that's one extreme, that's where you have a great deal of openness to allowing migrant workers in, but a great deal of restriction on the rights they're granted. What's the other end of the spectrum as it were?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well at the other end you would have countries in northern Europe with a very strong social democratic welfare model. So for example, Sweden, one of the classic social democratic welfare states, Sweden grants migration workers almost equality with citizens. Because of the social democratic welfare state, Sweden finds it very difficult to treat people as second class citizens. But at the same time, Sweden admits very few migrant workers. In a way, Sweden has the high rights, low numbers policies and what I've been particularly interested in is from an ethical point of view, which one is better and how do you think about these things?Because you could argue that from a global justice point of view, both, more migration and more rights for migrant workers are both good things. Now my analysis has shown that in practice there are tensions between these two goals, for some rights you have this trade-off. And then the question is, well what do you do in the situation?

PETER MARES 
Is it also a trade-off depending on the type of worker? So for example, if I'm a brain surgeon, will I be granted more rights wherever I go than if I'm essentially a builder's labourer who shovels cement or something?

MARTIN RUHS 
Absolutely, I think we have to make an important distinction between higher skilled migrant workers and lower skilled migrant workers. If you look at the global labour market for higher skilled migrant workers, essentially what you have is that a fairly large number of countries are competing for a relatively limited set of highly skilled migrant workers. Now that means that you expect to see a race to the top with regard to wages, but also rights offered. So if you want to attract highly skilled migrant workers, if you don't offer them good rights they're not going to show up. So in the early 2000s Germany tried to attract IT specialists from abroad, and to Germany' surprise they couldn't even fill their quota, and one of the reasons was the program that they used to bring in workers did not give easy access to citizenship, so the rights weren’t good enough. But for lower skilled migrant workers, the situation's very different. And high income countries are facing an almost unlimited supply of workers from low income countries who want to access high income countries' labour markets. So they know they can even lower rights and still attract large numbers of migrant workers.

PETER MARES 
We've seen appalling situations. I mentioned in my introduction the Bangladeshi construction workers in Qatar and of course there are workers from Nepal and other low wage countries in Qatar as well, building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. Now according to an expose by The Guardian newspaper, there could be 4000 workers of these workers die before the first kick-off.

MARTIN RUHS 
Well the situation in the Gulf is quite extreme and specific, but also very interesting, because as you say, there's no doubt that for a very long time there have been severe restrictions of migrant workers' rights, severe violations of their most basic human rights in the Gulf. Nevertheless, you have very large-scale, largely voluntary migration to these countries.

PETER MARES 
So the workers aren't being tricked into taking these conditions? You know, they're not being promised one thing and then delivered another when they get there?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well most are not. I mean the research that I did about 10 years ago in Kuwait, we surveyed migrant workers, especially Asian migrant workers in Kuwait, and we surveyed about 500 workers, and we found that may be 20 per cent of them were tricked as you say. So that means that the conditions and wages that they experienced in Kuwait were different from what they expected. For the remainder however, they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into, largely because they were repeat migrants. Migration to the Gulf States is often circular migration, it means people come and go. So they know exactly.

PETER MARES 
So they'd been there before and experienced those conditions already, and were willing to do it again?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right, and of course when you interview them, many would openly say that they are very grateful for having the opportunity to be there. I remember interviewing a Bangladeshi security guard, and from my point of view, I've just flown in from Europe, I thought that this person is working under awful conditions, and nobody should be doing this job. But when I asked him about it, he said that he was very grateful to have this opportunity because he was earning high wages and sending the money home and without this opportunity, things would be worse for him and his family. So that's really what got me thinking about these difficult choices that people make.

PETER MARES 
What about the countries that these workers are coming from, I mean are they concerned about what's happening to their nationals in places like Qatar with the building for the World Cup?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well it was really interesting that after we heard about the exploitation and rights restrictions of Nepali worker[s] in Qatar, we had the Qatari and Nepali governments giving a joint press conference and basically both governments were saying, there's no problem, what are you talking about. Including the Nepali government was saying that we should not exaggerate these stories. So that might be quite surprising, and I think the reason why Nepal would go out of its way to say well, you know exploitation isn't as bad as people say, is that Nepal is very concerned about two things. One, Nepal wants to send migrant workers out, like many other countries. Two, Nepal wants to protect its nationals abroad. But when push comes to shove, the objective of sending workers out, of increasing labour emigration, almost always overrides the imperative of protection. You see that again and again.A few years ago Indonesia had problems with its domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, and as a consequence Indonesia imposed an export ban, saying, we're not going to send any more domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia said fine, we'll just take our domestic workers from another country, and I think that's the problem, that's there's always one other lower income country that in a way is more desperate to send workers out.

PETER MARES 
It's a buyer's market as it were?

MARTIN RUHS 
I think that's right, so this tension between access and rights that I've identified in my analysis in receiving countries is also present in sending countries' labour immigration policies. If you read the labour immigration policies of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, you will see these two goals always there. Send workers out, protect migrants, and most sending countries know that there's a tension between these two goals in practice.

PETER MARES 
I'm Peter Mares and you're listening to Up Close, my guest is senior researcher Dr Martin Ruhs from Oxford University's Centre for Migration Policy and Society, and we're discussing the regulation of international labour migration. Martin Ruhs, there is an international treaty that's supposed to protect the rights of migrant workers, it's called the International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, what's the status of that treaty?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well the Treaty's not in a particularly good state, because it's the least ratified human rights treaty among all the human rights treaties that we've had so far. As you said, the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers was adopted in 1990. But so far ratified by fewer than 50 countries. None of the countries that have ratified this treaty are major immigration countries, and high income countries, and what's also interesting is that many of the countries that have ratified do not have particularly good human rights records. So this is a real problem, because in a way the treaty only applies and only has a chance of protecting migrants in countries that have ratified it.

PETER MARES 
And why has it failed to get traction?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well there's been a lot of discussion and actually research on why countries don't ratify. Many people argue it's to do with legal complexities and overlaps, but I think the answer in a way is more straightforward, is that most countries do not consider it in their national interests to ratify these treaties, because they include some rights that are perceived to create too many costs, especially for some of the high income countries. So I think that the Convention is quite demanding on states, demanding a high level of equality, and as a result many states do not ratify the Treaty. So it is a real problem.

PETER MARES 
So do you think attention should be on getting this treaty ratified and getting more states to sign up and implement the Treaty. Is that where effort should go to deal with situations like that in Qatar?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well this is what the UN and many migrant rights organisations have been trying to do. I mean they have been arguing for more campaigning of the Treaty. I'm quite pessimistic that this will result in more effective protection. I don't think there is a realistic prospect of any major high income country ratifying this treaty very soon. So I think after 25 years of this treaty, it's time to think about a different approach that's complementary to what we have already. And what I have been proposing is to think of a universal list of core rights which includes fewer rights than the 1990 Convention, but therefore has a better chance of being ratified by a greater number of countries, including countries that admit very large numbers of migrant workers.

PETER MARES 
But why can't we have both? Why can't we have better rights and more access?

MARTIN RUHS 
Because when you look at labour migration policies in practice, and if you recognise that many of these policies are based on the national interests of receiving countries, some rights, granting migrants some rights, creates net costs in the short run, especially for lower skilled workers. For example, some rights that give access to welfare states, so social housing, granting low skilled migrant workers access to social housing in Britain for example creates costs in the short run, because the social housing stock's essentially fixed. So the extent to which Britain will admit low skilled migrant workers will in part depend on the extent to which some of these costly rights can be restricted. And if for some reason, there is somebody or some institution that says, you cannot restrict these rights, then the policy response from a country like Britain might be well in this case we won't admit the migrant at all. So there are trade-offs, but only for those rights that create net costs for receiving countries.

PETER MARES 
I guess if we're looking at this through the lens of justice say, then on the one hand there's fair treatment and justice for those migrant workers who are already in a richer country like Britain or a Gulf State or whatever, and then on the other hand there's the question of justice in a more global sense for all those millions of potential migrant workers you mentioned at the beginning, the people who do want to migrate in order to earn a better income, uplift their family through education, and so on. So we need to think about the potential workers as well as the workers already there. In other words your argument is we need to think about pushing the migration door a bit wider open.

MARTIN RUHS 
Yeah that's absolutely right, and some human rights based approaches to migration have suffered from this blind spot, because as you said, they've been primarily concerned with protecting existing migrants without however necessarily thinking about the consequences for the admission of new migrant workers or potential migrant workers, the workers who are still in low income countries and who want to access labour markets in high income countries. So the trade-off between access and rights suggests that insisting on complete equality of rights for new migrant workers can come at the price of more restrictive admission policies. And what I'm saying is that the first thing that workers in poor income countries want is access to labour markets in high income countries. And then of course they want as much protection and equality of rights as possibleBut workers in poor income countries don't benefit from equality of rights in countries like Sweden if they're not admitted to these countries in the first place.

PETER MARES 
An alternative view would be to say well those people shouldn't have to migrate in the first place. You know, we should fix the problems of poverty and underdevelopment in the Global South as it were, so that people don't have to leave their homes and their families to find the money to put a roof over their head.

MARTIN RUHS 
Well I think that's absolutely right, but I'm just always nervous about taking choices and options away from people without at the same time offering them alternatives. So I think you're right. Ideally the Bangladeshi security guard who I spoke about before should not feel compelled to go to Kuwait and work under such difficult conditions, because ideally we would create better employment and higher wages in this person's home country. But if you then go into the Gulf State, into Kuwait, and say well you know, you should not be doing this work, I think you have to offer an alternative at the same time. If you don't do that, you basically take a choice away, and let's not forget, as I said earlier, that a lot of this migration is voluntary. So people think that employment under these awful conditions is the best choice they have. So it's the best choice among a bunch of very bad options. So that's why I think anybody who opposes temporary migration programs for low skilled workers to restrict some of these rights needs to show the realistic alternatives in a way are ethically superior. They're better policies, and I think there's only two alternatives.One is exclusion, which means migrant workers are not admitted at all, and the other alternative is illegal immigration, and from the research that I have done I don't think that migrants or sending countries would prefer either of those to a low skilled labour migration program.

PETER MARES 
And illegal migration often of course ends up in even greater abuse of rights, because of people's visa status in the country.

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right. 

PETER MARES 
This is Up Close, I'm Peter Mares, I'm discussing international labour migration with Dr Martin Ruhs, author of the book The Price of Rights in which he argues that we might need to accept some restrictions on the rights of migrant workers from poor countries in order to increase their access to jobs in higher income economies. And Martin, if we are going to do this, if we're going to trade rights for opportunities, particularly higher paid job opportunities for low skilled workers from less developed countries, then what's that going to look like in practice? I mean are we essentially talking about an expansion of guest worker programs?

MARTIN RUHS 
Yes, and then we have to decide what rights restrictions we find acceptable in this exchange for better access for low skilled migrant workers to high income countries. And this is a normative question, it's a moral question where different people will have very different views. Now my own view is that there can be no case for restricting civil or political rights for migrant workers, except of course for the right to vote in national elections, which is routinely restricted at the moment.

PETER MARES 
The right to vote in national election is very much at the kind of boundary of citizenship isn't it, so if you granted that there'd be no difference between a citizen and a migrant worker?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right, I mean it's restricted for all temporary migrant workers and most permanent migrant workers around the world. So we have to ask well, what rights restrictions would be acceptable, and I personally would only find a few selected rights eligible for these restrictions. Now one right I think that has to be restricted is the right to free choice of employment. So that means many high income countries want labour immigration because they have shortages in specific sectors, occupations of the labour markets, for example a shortage in agriculture, a shortage in the IT sector. Unless you can restrict the employment of migrants to these sectors, much of the rationale for labour immigration goes away and receiving countries will be much less likely to admit migrants.

PETER MARES 
There's another problem here though potentially, isn't there, because if a worker is tied to a particular job, a particular employer - so you know you get your visa to enter the country and work in this country in this particular job with this particular boss - then the boss controls whether or not you stay in the country. The worker can be really exposed to exploitation.

MARTIN RUHS 
That's absolutely right. I think some of the worst forms of exploitation are a direct result of that situation of being tied to a specific employer. So that is why my recommendation would be to be to come up with policies that tie workers to sectors or occupations. So let workers move across employers freely, but within specific occupations and within sectors. I think we have to find a way how we can break this problem of tying workers to specific employers, you're absolutely right.

PETER MARES 
But in terms of other rights, other civil and political rights, apart from the right to vote and apart from free movement in the labour market, would workers have the right say - should they be able to join trade unions or take part in protests, what about those sorts of rights?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well I would say coming from a liberal democracy myself, I would personally not approve of any restrictions of civil and political rights. I mean some countries of course engage in these restrictions. Singapore for example, again a high numbers, low rights, policy country, in Singapore if you're a low skilled migrant worker you're not allowed to cohabit with a Singaporean resident, you're not allowed to get married to a Singaporean resident, and if you're a female low skilled migrant, you have to undergo mandatory pregnancy checks every six months. Now if you look at Singaporean policy and see why are these rights restrictions in place, there is actually a rationale that is being spelled out. So Singapore has a policy of segregating migrant workers, and Singapore wants to maintain its national identity which is defined in a really specific way and the policy is to bring low skilled migrant workers in temporarily and keep them apart.Now I don't think any liberal democracy would want to engage in these kinds of trade-offs. I think the big questions are really around access to the welfare state, and social rights.

PETER MARES 
Let's come to social rights and the welfare state in a moment, but there's one other question around work rights as it were, and we've talked about labour mobility. But what about preference? I mean does a government have a responsibility even to give preference to its own citizens before bringing in migrant workers?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well I would argue yes, and actually almost all labour immigration programs around the world are trying to do that. So typically employers are not given access to migrant workers unless they can show that no domestic workers are available to do the work. Now that's the theory, and it's often implemented through what's called a labour market test. So employers need to advertise their jobs for a certain period of time, and then show that they haven't found any domestic workers. In practice these tests are notoriously difficult to implement effectively, and many employers, especially in lower wage jobs, actually prefer migrants over domestic workers because they think migrants are better skilled and often working much harder. So yes I think that all countries try to give preference to their own workers. But in practice it's very difficult to do.

PETER MARES 
It raises another problem too, because if you then have downturn, does that mean the migrant workers get sacked first and sent home? Because that creates a disparity in the workplace between two different types of worker.

MARTIN RUHS 
I think that's right. People often think that that's what's mostly likely to happen, and people who believe temporary migration programs automatically creating win/win scenarios think that if there's a downturn employers will lay off migrant workers first. In practice, that does not always happen, precisely because migrants are often among the most skilled and most dedicated workers. So it's not migrants who are laid off first sometimes, it's often domestic workers.

PETER MARES 
Okay you mentioned access to welfare as being probably the most difficult area. How do you see that working? What would you see as a minimum threshold of access that migrant workers should have to the welfare state of a host nation?

MARTIN RUHS 
Well I would make a fundamental distinction between access to contributory welfare benefits and what are called income based or means tested benefits. So contributory benefits are benefits that people, citizens, anybody receives because you pay in. You work and you pay in and you get something out. Now I think it's very hard to argue that migrants should be denied access to rights that are based on these kinds of contributory arrangements.

PETER MARES 
If they're paying in they ought to be able to get the service they're paying for?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right, and that also by the way applies to pension rights. So if you are working abroad temporarily and if you pay into a pension fund, and if you leave I think you should be entitled to receive that pension, to make it portable across countries. Now however income based benefits are basically welfare payments that people receive because they are on low incomes, not because they're working or not because they have contributed in the past, and many of these programs are basically about helping the poor in your country. So for example, social housing and low income support. Now from an ethical point of view, I think the claims that a new migrant worker, just recently arrived migrant worker, has on these types of benefits are weaker than the claims on contributory benefits. So I think that temporary restrictions on things like social housing and low income support for new migrant workers, I would find those acceptable on a temporary basis.

PETER MARES 
What about welfare that is neither contributory or targeted at low income citizens? I mean I'm thinking of Britain's national health program or Australia's Medicare program, which is universal. It's a universal provision of health care that everyone has access to, or school education, again a universal good that you don't contribute to in a sense. It's not a contributory program.

MARTIN RUHS 
Well it's worth emphasising that in most cases, it will be in the interests of the receiving country to grant migrant workers equality of rights, and especially with regard to health and probably also in certain instances education. So of course you do not want to deny migrants access to emergency healthcare, because that would be not only terrible for migrants but it would probably also be associated with bad consequences for citizens. Similarly, education for children of migrants in my view should never be denied. However when it comes to things like, as I said, low income support, social housing, for new migrant workers, I think the situation is slightly different. But I would just like to repeat again, I would find these careful and selective restrictions only acceptable if they're temporary. So I would only find them acceptable for say three or four years, after which I think countries have a choice. Either make your temporary migrant permanent, and give them full rights, or ask them to leave.What I find unacceptable is to have an arrangement of permanent second class status as you have it in the Gulf States. I mean in general, I think that if you want to run a temporary migration program that brings in large numbers of migrant workers under restricted rights, you can only do that for a relatively short and limited period of time.

PETER MARES 
Or you accept that they will go on to become citizens of your nation?

MARTIN RUHS 
That's right, or accept that they become citizens of your nation.

PETER MARES 
Martin Ruhs, thank you for joining us on Up Close.

MARTIN RUHS 
Thank you.

PETER MARES 
Dr Martin Ruhs is a senior researcher and lecturer in political economy at Oxford University's Centre on Migration Policy and Society, or COMPAS, and he's the author of The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labour Migration which is published by Princeton University Press. You'll find details of the book and Martin Ruhs' blog and other useful links about international labour migration on the Up Close website, along with a full transcript of this podcast and every other weekly edition of the program. Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne Australia, created by Kelvin Param and Param and Eric van Bemmel. This episode was recorded on 3 December 2013 and produced by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param with audio engineer Gavin Nebauer. I'm Peter Mares, thanks for listening, I hope you can join us again soon.

VOICEOVER
You’ve been listening to Up close.  We're also on Twitter and Facebook.  For more info visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2013, the University of Melbourne.


show transcript | print transcript | download pdf