NYC’s South Asian Workers Underpaid, Exploited and Harassed

Photo via News India Times

New York City’s workers of South Asian descent, also known as Desis, are being exploited, underpaid and harassed at work, reports News India Times, quoting a recently released report.

The report, by the Queens-Based South Asian workers rights group Desis Rising up and Moving in collaboration with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, offers a glimpse of the hazardous working conditions, wage theft and harassment that South Asian workers in New York endure. It also highlights a burgeoning movement to address this exploitation.

The findings in the survey point to an exploited, underpaid and often harassed workforce, a situation that has only worsened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many South Asians – several of whom are Muslims and others who are often mistaken for Muslims by police officers during stop-and-frisk operations – live in constant fear of targeting and deportation, and are forced to remain in exploitative jobs with little opportunity for advancement, authors of the study said in the release.

“For the first time, South Asian immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented in New York City, are also coming out of the shadows across workplaces,” Monami Maulik, executive director of DRUM, said. “As one of the fastest growing communities and one of the most targeted after 9/11, South Asian immigrant workers are speaking out to join a growing call for respect for labor and human rights through local, national, and global change on labor and immigration policy.”

Even compared to other low-wage workers, South Asians are paid less, according to the report, which was based on surveys, focus groups and interviews with workers in Jackson Heights, Queens.

South Asians also earn around $5 less in comparison with the average low-wage worker in New York. The deepest gap was found among construction workers, who earn $16.43 less than the average. At least 65 percent of respondents told researchers they work more than eight hours a day, while 40 percent work more than five days per week.

According to the report, one in five workers mentioned workplace harassment, while two out of five retail workers said they are not allowed to take breaks. However, undocumented workers rarely speak out about being abused for fear of deportation and retaliation against their families.

Maulik said the study is first to highlight the exploitation of South Asian workers in New York. South Asians make up 23 percent of undocumented immigrants in New York City, the second largest group after Latinos, who account for 27 percent of the city’s undocumented population, according to the report.

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