For Sabal and many frontline healthcare workers, racism and discrimination is something they face every day on the job
Sabal* came to us in May 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the Black Lives Matter movement was inspiring conversations about racism in Ireland.
A Health Care Assistant working at a nursing home in Dublin, Sabal is one of countless frontline health workers from a migrant background working long hours to provide essential healthcare in the face of the pandemic and save lives.
Unfortunately for Sabal, the health threat posed by the coronavirus was just one of one many anxieties he faced every day at work: “I face a lot of bullying and humiliation. Such behaviour is faced by the majority of non-Irish workers in the healthcare industry, directly and indirectly.
“The overall experience in Ireland is challenging as a foreigner. Bullying is common and isolating. In the last year, all the non-Irish face bullying every week in my nursing home.”
Sabal first came to Ireland in 2011 along with his wife, a nurse. Though he has extensive professional experience in corporate finance, he wasn’t able to find a job in the financial sector. After working in retail for some time, he changed his career to healthcare in 2019.
Sabal’s first day on the job gave him an unfortunate sense of what was to come: “When I joined, I was not introduced to anyone…I was non-existent. No hello, no greeting of any sort, didn’t even ask my name. I thought maybe after a month it would be okay. But no, this continued for months.
“I feel like an alien. This makes me depressed, upset and sad all the time. Imagine you go to a workplace where people isolate you or don’t wish to talk much just because you’re not Irish.”
For Sabal and his non-Irish co-workers, a lacking in social interactions was only part of the problem.
“I have been yelled at many instance for no reason, no provocation. Cursing is common. Ganging up is another problem: During Covid-19, gossip spread by these gangs [of co-workers] such as that an Asian lady brought in the virus, or Africans, and that’s why the residents’ health has gone down.”
In Sabal’s experience, he and the other non-Irish workers are often given additional work and responsibilities, with some of his Irish-born colleagues refusing to work with non-Irish workers or leaving them alone on the floor to do everything that has to be done: “I am the only Asian on the floor in my shift. I would end up doing much more tasks beyond my limits and it happens all the time.”
And when he’s raised the issues he’s experienced with management?
“I have always reported the bullying and harassment but no action has ever been taken, except that people leave their job due to the atmosphere. I love my job and what I am doing - the humanitarian work, but the challenges faced are depressing. Every time I get over it, I face something new. I haven’t done any bad to anyone, I like to integrate with everyone.”
Despite his experiences at work, Sabal insists he loves living in Ireland:
“I love Dublin from the bottom of my heart. I love the peace in the neighbourhood I live in. I love meeting new people and I am part of an environmental activity group.”
Sabal is hopeful that by sharing his story and raising awareness about his and his co-workers’ experiences that there will be more incentive by businesses for zero tolerance of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
At the end of day, all he wants is to be treated equally, wishing for the same treatment received by the many native-born Irish who have emigrated abroad for new opportunities.
We’d like to thank Sabal for sharing his story with us. While what Sabal has experienced will not be the same for every migrant worker in Ireland, it’s important these voices are heard so people realise the devastating impact prejudice and discrimination can have. Workplaces need to ensure there are effective diversity and inclusion practices with the ultimate goal of improving equality in the workplace – which will benefit everyone.
* Sabal has asked that we not use his real name.