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Study: temps and migrants at greater risk for workplace accidents

Temporary workers hired through staffing agencies, migrant workers, and immigrant workers both legal and undocumented, are at a higher risk for the most serious types of workplace accidents, according to the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Transnational Legal Clinic. And, if that weren't enough, these workers also face the biggest hurdles to obtaining workers' compensation benefits, as well.

"There are systemic issues we could point to about why they're in more accidents, but there are also workplaces that are more dangerous than others," explains the clinic's director.

Farm work can be particularly dangerous, putting migrant workers at risk. People who find employment on a temporary basis may be doing so due to lower-level skills, or because they can't find permanent employment -- and that may mean taking on more dangerous kinds of work. Many immigrants, through lack of English proficiency, issues with the transfer of professional licenses from abroad, or suspicion that they may be undocumented, find themselves limited to construction and industrial jobs with higher workplace accident rates.

"You have a host of stories where immigration status is being used to deny particularly undocumented workers their full rights and benefits," added the director. "When you take that into the temporary worker arena, there's a whole other layer of problems."

For temps, one systemic barrier to obtaining appropriate workers' comp benefits or associated third-party liability claims is their employment status. Generally, they are employees of the staffing agency, but the company contracting for their work is actually in control of their day-to-day job functions. This split between their legal employers and their practical employers can make each company feel less accountability for their safety.

For immigrants, one enormous barrier to seeking workers' compensation is fear. Although undocumented immigrants are, in fact, eligible for workers' comp and other worker protections, many are afraid to bring those claims.

For example, when the employees of a plastics company tried to unionize, the company brought visa fraud charges against one of the union leaders, who was then deported. A 2005 study by Human Rights Watch says that highly-publicized case chilled immigrant workers' willingness to seek redress of workplace grievances -- or even to seek medical attention for injuries.

With the economy as tough as it is, we can't afford to let large sectors of workers go without compensation for workplace accidents and injuries. What do you think should be done?

Source: The Raw Story, "Temporary and migrant workers face 'systemic' problem of workplace dangers," David Ferguson, March 28, 2013

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