Beneath the glossy veneer of prosperity in the US lies a sordid story of human rights abuse. The country which invoked the Vienna Convention and cited violation of laws ruling minimum wages paid to domestic workers in the Devyani Khobragade case, is accused of some of the worst violations of human rights by independent research organisations which say at least 60 per cent of the workforce in unregulated industries in the US is underpaid.
Not surprisingly, there is no record of errant employers being arrested, handcuffed and strip-searched by the US marshals despite the fact that about 70 per cent of US workers do not receive additional wages for working overtime. While arresting Devyani and subjecting her to tortuous standard operating procedures reserved for hardened criminals, US prosecutor Preet Bharara and state department officials alleged that Devyani’s maid was paid only $3.31 per hour in violation of US minimum wage guidelines.
Interestingly, according to US media reports, authorities arrested a fast food restaurant employee earlier in October after she confronted her employer over low wages and demanded more money per hour. US justice department took no cognisance of the case.
“We found that many employment and labour laws are regularly and systematically violated, impacting a significant part of the low-wage labour force in the nation’s largest cities. These minimum wage violations were not trivial in magnitude: 60 per cent of workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour,” The report titled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers-Violations of Employment and Labour Laws in America’s Cities” by Russell Sage Foundation of US, stated.
Report also suggested that employer’s retaliation is rampant when underpaid workers tried to complain or attempted to form a union. Report said the violations were more rampant in apparel and textile manufacturing, repair services, and in private households. It said in all three sectors, more than 40 per cent of workers were paid less than the minimum wage. Report says 96 per cent housekeepers, maids employed in private households were paid in cash and approximately 63 per cent had non-hourly pay arrangements. It reported 41 per cent minimum wage violation against maids and housekeepers.
Report also revealed racial discrimination as foreign-born Latino workers faced highest minimum wage violation rates. Even among US born workers, the violation rate for African-Americans was triple than their white counterparts.
VIOLATION OF LABOUR RIGHTS
Human Rights Watch (HRW) , a leading rights group based in New York in its 2013 report observed rampant violation of Child Labour in US. HRW said: “Child farm workers, most of them Latino, often work 10 or more hours a day and risk pesticide poisoning, heat illness, injuries, life-long disabilities, and death.” HRW said 75 per cent of children below age of 16 suffered fatal occupational injuries in 2010.
“Thousands more are injured each year. Federal protections that do exist are often not enforced,” the report added.
While the US is targeting other countries for violating labour laws, an HRW report on Child Labour and exploitation of workers in its own backyard reveals a grim picture. “With some exceptions, farm workers—both child and adult—are legally entitled to minimum wage but employers often falsify payroll records to show fewer hours than the employee actually worked,” an HRW report on Child labour exploitation in US stated.
HRW interviewed child labourers as young as seven at farms. Report said these children often work 10 or more hours a day. Women and girls are also exceptionally vulnerable to sexual abuse.
VIOLATION OF VIENNA CONVENTION
A report prepared by UK group ‘Reprieve’ and funded by European Union exposed US duplicity on Vienna Convention. Reports suggest that US is the worst violator of Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). Report said out of 102 prisoners on death row in the various states of US, there was VCCR compliance in just five cases. In over 95 per cent cases VCCR was denied by the US. The report suggested that foreign nationals are at a significant disadvantage when confronted with the intricacies of the US criminal justice system.
“It may be necessary actually to sue the United States to enforce international legal obligations – a route taken by Paraguay, Germany and Mexico in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with respect to the VCCR itself,” the report said, adding that it has identified European nationals who have been on death row in the US for two decades without their home governments ever being told.
HRW said; “The US incarcerates more people than any other country. Practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities.”