"Cost of Living": Nepali Migrant Workers in the Gulf - A Documentary review
Cost of Living by Anti-Slavery International is an informative and succinct look into the difficulties that Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf face. Though now a few years old (it was first released in 2011), this short documentary captures how borders, the demand for cheap labour and the lack of migrant protections corner migrant workers into exploitative and violent situations.
The documentary describes this system of exploitation by highlighting how migrant work in the Gulf starts: families that cannot afford basic household needs are on the frontlines of this exploitation and are lured into trusting recruitment agencies abroad that promise them a decent wage. However, this promise is entangled with harsh working conditions and other complicating factors. Migrants might not receive the full wage they were promised and their place of work, also commonly their place of residence during their employment, is often dangerous and unliveable. Many migrants remain unpaid even after they have completed their work. This has left many workers stranded, often forced to overstay their visas and find work through unofficial channels. With outdated documents and uncertain income, this exposes workers to a range of hazards including homelessness and food insecurity.
Solutions are discussed towards the end, emphasising the importance of collectivity, rights-based approaches, connecting with organisations and communicating worker demands to employers. The documentary features speakers from the Bahrain Trade Union who pinpoint the importance of facilitating dialogue and communicating worker needs to employers. Footage of union meetings reflect the need for improving basic living conditions and ensuring humane treatment in the workplace as a starting point for alleviating the harshest components of this system of exploitation.
Overall, this short documentary demonstrates how socioeconomic need can transform and amplify political vulnerabilities, and how this political vulnerability evolves into a fractal of uncertainty and risk that Nepali migrant workers are forced into. It serves as a useful introduction to the issue of migrant worker rights, needs, and health in the Gulf, and how discrimination is mechanised by political exclusion. For more information about Nepali perspectives, check out this episode of Global Health Lives featuring a Nepali film-maker who engages work on bonded labour, migration and child marriage.