Employment situation of migrant women

In 2006, the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies produced a shadow report to the Cypriot government’s report for the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The report’s basic findings included, among others, information on the integration of migrant women in the Cypriot labour force and on their working and living conditions. Furthermore, it highlighted some of the measures proposed for dealing with these issues.

The Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS), founded in 2001, is a non-profit organisation and affiliated to Intercollege, one of the main private higher education institutions in the Republic of Cyprus. In its Shadow Report 2006 for the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), MIGS examines the national context in relation to women’s rights and highlights a number of critical factors. The report also proposes recommendations for action in these areas.

Labour market integration of migrant women

According to the MIGS shadow report, the demographics of Cyprus are changing rapidly due to the influx of migrants arriving into the country from the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Most of these migrants become employed, both legally and illegally, as domestic and/or agricultural workers. Other significant reasons contributing to the demographic shift are: the high numbers of eastern European women entering or being trafficked into Cyprus to work in the entertainment and sex industry; the opening of the demarcation line, the so-called Green Line, between the northern and southern parts of the island; and the growing number of asylum seekers.

In Cyprus, migrant women not only have to deal with the migration process and the trauma of having to integrate into the host country’s society and culture, but in addition they have to contend with cobsiderable discrimination and victimisation. The latter is gender-specific when it comes to the integration of migrants. So far, the Cypriot government has not adopted any concrete policies or strategies for dealing with the integration of migrants in the labour force, according to the shadow report. Furthermore, deficiencies remain at both legislative and institutional level, as well as a lack of control mechanisms in place for the implementation and the observance of the terms and conditions related to the employment of migrants. The employment contracts for female migrant domestic workers and women on ‘entertainment’ or ‘artiste’ visas are stipulated by the migration department of the Ministry of Interior (Υπουργειο Εσωτερικων, MOI) without consulting the labour department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI).

Working and living conditions

Legally recognised refugees, particularly women, experience enormous difficulties as far as access to healthcare, employment, accommodation and overall integration issues is concerned. Despite officially having equal rights in terms of access to the labour market in Cyprus, female refugees suffer discrimination and are often employed in unskilled jobs although many of them are highly educated.

As far as the employment of domestic workers in Cyprus is concerned, it is not based on the labour needs of the country, but mainly on the needs of the native working women. The employment contracts for domestic workers are not drafted by the MLSI, but rather by the MOI – a fact that leads to domestic workers earning below the minimum wage and not receiving their social security rights on leaving the island. Moreover, the way their employment contracts are set out often denies these workers their full civic rights and thus their involvement in political activities.

According to the shadow report, female migrant workers in Cyprus are exploited and marginalised. For example, in 2004, in the Nicosia District Labour Office, 540 female migrant domestic workers filed complaints to the authority pertaining to contract violations, racism and discrimination. Apart from cases of severe mental and physical abuse – including sexual harassment and rape – there were cases reported of women living in huts without proper hygiene and of being denied proper nutrition. Furthermore, some workers complained that they were denied their day off (usually a Sunday), that they had their passports withheld and that they worked more hours than specified in their contracts without receiving the appropriate compensation.

Proposed measures

On behalf of MIGS, several recommendations have been made in an attempt to deal with the issues arising from this report.

  • Migrant domestic workers’ employment contracts must be revised in order to bring their wages in line with the national minimum wage which, depending on the sector of activity, ranges from CYP 150 (€258 as at 23 May 2007) to CYP 362 (€622); this should allow for their full participation in society. Such a revision would require the mutual consultation of the MLSI and MOI.
  • The adoption of concrete strategies and policies to aid the integration of migrant women into society as a whole.

Further information

Additional information on the report can be found on the website of the Association of Organisations of Mediterranean Businesswomen (AFAEMME), available at: http://www.afaemme.org/publications.php.

See also the EWCO news update on ‘Low labour market participation of women’ (CY0702039I) based on data from the same shadow report.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)

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