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October 26, 2018

INGOs and the local factor


October 26, 2018

Restrictions on labour movement and the free flight of capital across national boundaries is the fundamental contradiction of globalisation. All visa regulations are driven by an unwritten principle which advocates restriction of labour movement – as if the nation-state’s prime responsibility is to regulate the labour market.

In reality, the developed free market economies are highly regulated – vis-à-vis managing the supply of labour. The freedom associated with globalisation is enjoyed by those who have capital but not by the vast majority of the working class who have nothing to offer other than their labour and skills. We at times get carried away by the flamboyance associated with the oft-repeated notion of globalisation as a prospect of human liberation, In fact, though, it has become a force of marginalisation and pauperisation of the poor manual workers and the skilled workforce of the developing world.

Manual workers from Asia, Africa and Latin America – people who work in sweatshops, homes , service sector and industries in the Western developed countries and oil rich states of the Middle East – have no legal and political protection against economic exploitation and workplace harassment. In the UK alone, sweatshop workers from the developing countries contribute to eight percent of GDP. These sweatshop workers earn GBP3-4 per hour which is much less than the national minimum wage. From April 2018, all workers in the UK aged 25 and above are legally entitled to at leastGBP7.83 per hour and 40 hours a week to maintain the minimum national standard of a healthy social life. Immigrant workers have to work up to 16 hours a day, six days a week; they make around 96 hours a week to make a decent living. In addition to the long hours of underpaid manual work, they face harassment and misdemeanours from their employers almost on a daily basis.

With varying degrees of physical assaults, sexual harassment and psychological traumas, immigrant workers are the most vulnerable and marginalised section in the developed countries of Europe, the US, Australia and the Middle East. In most of cases, immigrant workers are not protected by the national labour laws and their contribution to the national economy is not acknowledged as a contribution towards wealth creation and national prosperity. Their cheap labour is taken for granted and there is rarely any coverage of the plight of immigrant workers in the mainstream media.

Resentment against the economic exploitation and workplace harassment of immigrant workers caught public attention during the anti-globalisation protests organized by a multitude of dissenting voices against neoliberalism in the late 1990s. However, with the rise of rightwing politics, the miseries of immigrant workers have multiplied in the West in recent years.

In the case of the Middle East the situation has become even worse today than before, given the economic meltdown and the surge of intra and intestate armed conflicts. The only thriving businesses in the Middle East are the arms trade and the reconstruction/rehabilitation of war-torn countries. War-mongering rightwing political hawks and their think-tanks in Western capitals are engaged in “manufacturing the public consent “(using Noam Chomsky’s phrase) to provide political legitimacy to war as a means of expanding democracy in the developing world.

The highly skilled workers of developing countries face marginalisation even in their home countries because the INGOs working in these countries prefer to hire professionals at decision-making positions from a developed country of the West. International aid agencies and INGOs have strong penetration in conflict-hit areas, with window dressing relief operations as a process of easing public opinion for the thriving business of disaster capitalism. Many INGOs have played a pivotal role in trivialising the debate of disaster capitalism as a failure of indigenous socioeconomic, cultural and political institutions.

Disaster capitalism thrives on wars, conflicts and pogroms to revitalise economic growth through an accelerated pace of capital accumulation. Disaster capitalism serves two key purposes: a) the profits of global business leaders in arms sale, construction and pharmaceuticals are multiplied with minimal investments; and b) governments of developed countries gain political mileage by creating out of war and conflict overseas employment opportunities for their citizens.

In the era of globalisation, the world has become a restricted place not only for manual workers but also for the highly skilled professionals of the developing countries. Even the Western-educated highly skilled professionals from developing countries are finding it hard to secure decent employment in international organisations as compared to professionals with the same skill set but from a developed country.

If one happens to have an opportunity to study in a Western university – after spending millions of hard-earned money – it is not easy to find employment with an INGO including the UN agencies which work in the developing countries. INGOs prefer to hire senior staff from a Western country despite the fact that these people neither have knowledge nor sufficient experience of working in a disaster-hit developing country. Furthermore, a management professional from a developing country vying for the same position will still need to undergo humiliating scrutiny to qualify for a mid-level management job. In addition to this, there is structural alienation in the induction of staff, in that for a UN job it is mandatory to know an additional language to qualify for employment with the UN even in Pakistan.

INGOs working in Pakistan induct expatriate staff from the host country on very high salaries despite the fact that Pakistan has one of the best development professionals to perform high-ranked management jobs. This has resulted in the flight of the millions of rupees in salaries and fringed benefits of expatriate staff which could have been used to enhance employment opportunities to Pakistani skilled workers. It is vital to regulate the induction of INGO staff to ensure that priority is given to Pakistani nationals.

International development assistance through INGOs is a major source of employment generation, improvement in human development conditions and attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets. It is also important to improve the regulation, monitoring and accountability of the development sector so that the billions of rupees received for social development are utilised in the best possible ways to alleviate poverty and underdevelopment.

A blanket ban on INGOs is not an appropriate answer to address national security concerns because this will result in the loss of a huge opportunity for international investment for national development. The better option is to come up with legislation to make it mandatory for all INGOs to employ local professionals as a priority. This will help improve the efficacy of social investments, enhance local employment and reduce the security risks significantly. Pakistan can follow the path adopted by other developing countries like Turkey and South American states by making it mandatory for INGOs to induct national staff on key positions.

In most cases deployment is done without any scrutiny or proper assessment of experience and skills before the induction of expatriate staff. Only those expats must be employed who have unique skills and experience which are not available in Pakistan and that too after a strong justification is provided by the employer.

The government should introduce a robust and speedy monitoring system in line with security concerns. These, however, must facilitate social development activities and employment generation for the youth of Pakistan. With improved and efficient regulation, which does not hamper the flow of international development assistance, the government will be able to meet its targets of job creation in Pakistan.

The writer is a freelancecolumnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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