Jumat, 08 November 2013

Are all jobs OK ?

Are there "good" jobs and "bad" jobs ? Are some jobs inherently demeaning in nature and therefore to be banned ?  Or is the economic imperative an acceptable argument for any job where there is demand and where people do of their own free will ? Unforced prostitution is one such example. Manual scavenging is another. I find it a difficult moral dilemma, as this post on the "mule women" of Melilla will show. I came to know of this from one of the greatest of radio shows - BBC's From Our Own Correspondent. (starts from 12.25). If you prefer simply the written version rather than hearing it on the radio, it is here.

An accident of history has made two small enclaves of Spain (and therefore of the European Union) exist on the north coast of Africa. Melilla and Ceuta are located in what should be Morocco, but they are part of Spain and hence border-less with the European Union and all its goodies. The whole story arises because

a) Moroccan residents of Nador, the neighbouring province in Morocco are allowed to freely travel (but not stay) in Melilla
b) Morocco allows goods to be brought in from Melilla, duty free, as long as it is physically carried by a person - not pulled in a trolley or cart, but physically carried across the border.

Enter the "mule women" of Melilla. They are hired by Moroccan importers to cross into Melilla and then physically carry the goods across the border, thereby earning the right to be duty free. Each bale is some 60 to 80 kgs and the women can make 3 or 4 trips in a day. They are paid some 3 or 4 Euros per trip. The photo below,  courtesy of the BBC, tells its own story.

This is exploitative and tantamount to slavery - right ? Can you imagine carrying 80 kilos on your back and trudging across the border all day, and in the hot sun, like this . There is little doubt that the women are prone to injuries . If ever there was an example of back breaking work, this is it; literally. Wages are a pittance. That the workforce is almost entirely women and not men is evidence that there is exploitation, at least on wages, going on. All this due to a quirk of customs law which imposes a duty on something that is mechanically moved, but gives a duty free status if it is carried personally. The whole matter can easily be solved by a stroke of the pen - a change in the customs laws. Hey presto; exploitation of the women will stop.

But as Linda Pressly, the BBC reporter who publicised the story says, when she asked one of the women why she was putting up with exploitation, she was met with an incredulous look from her - "I have a family who must eat. I have four children and nobody to help", was the answer. If you take away their work, they will have nowhere else to go and will become destitute. Governments can give a dole or a pension, but is that better than being allowed to work ?

In my younger days, this was not a debate and the solution was clear. Nothing justifies exploitation. Any trade that exploited any vulnerable group physically or emotionally, must simply be banned. Demeaning work must be wiped off the face of the earth. Period.

Now, as I am older, and perhaps a tad wiser, it's not so clear. What do you think ?
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