By Lois Jones
EXPLOITATION of immigrant labour detected by the USO (General Workers Union) in the Balearics showed that 72 per cent of cases were recorded in the construction industry, which also leads figures for industrial accidents with 73 per cent of all recorded incidents happening on site. “The law governing foreign status in Spain, newly reformed by central government, will boost exploitation of immigrants and the accident work rate to an uncontrolled extent”. Ernesto Baletto, the head of the Workers' Syndicate Social Action group in the Balearics, was condemning the status quo in a press conference yesterday. Baletto made known the results of a report produced by the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) General Workers Trade Union on cases of exploitation of immigrant labour, that rose to 142 between the months of January and May this year: “even though this figure doesn't represent even 2 per cent of the real scale of exploitation in the Balearics,” he commented. The farming industry has also been witness to many examples of unrecorded abuse. Legal action is rarely, if ever taken for reasons of language barrier or for fear of losing work and of having administrative problems for which politicians and industry chiefs had to bear responsibility. Of the 142 cases of abuse where legal action was brought to bear, 102 were in the construction industry (72 per cent), 20 per cent in domestic service and 11 more in industrial organizations. The figures however were not a reflection of the true state of affairs and contradict official statements on the decrease of the general work accident rate. Although there were no fatalities, 64 per cent of the incidents (14) were serious.
Baletto also emphasized that all these cases were recorded amongst immigrant workers who had no official papers and with contracts of less than three months, which in his view demonstrated a direct link between the industrial accident rate and unsecure work conditions. The head of the immigration department of USO, Juan Carlos Velasco, condemned the fact that between 15'000 and 18'000 applications for work permits presented at government offices in August of 2001 have been “frozen”, when the maximum time allowed for processing stands at three months, he claimed. Furthermore, it came to light that specific organisations deliberately trick immigrants, asking them for a downpayment of between 150 and 180 euros for processing the work permit. Velasco attributed the growth of this group of outlawed workers, and its exploitation, to the “administrative failing” of government offices, and demanded that the immigrant section be protected by the same basic rights as other workers.

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