From the TUC

#InternationalMigrantsDay 2016: Solidarity with undocumented workers 

18 Dec 2016, by in International

The TUC has joined other unions around Europe to mark International Migrants Day (18 December) by calling for undocumented migrants to have their rights respected.

All too often undocumented workers suffer the humiliating and degrading experience of being excluded from society, on top of inhumane working conditions because the law doesn’t provide protections for their rights at work. The truth is, all workers have rights, including undocumented migrant workers because workers’ rights are human rights. Trade unions here in the UK and across Europe are fighting for these rights to be enforceable.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has today launched a report highlighting the urgent need for action by governments and the EU to protect workers’ rights regardless of workers’ status.  This is needed to combat issues around the restrictive and discriminatory policies that the more than 3 million undocumented workers in Europe face, whilst ensuring undocumented workers are afforded the same fundamental rights as all EU nationals. The report stresses the importance of trade union collective organising as one of the main ways to empower undocumented workers and prevent exploitation, along with the establishment of effective complaints mechanisms and regulations to ensure labour rights are upheld for everyone. The report includes campaigns and activities by trade unions across Europe. For example, in Ireland the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its biggest affiliate SIPTU supports the Justice for Undocumented campaign and SIPTU has been working with the Migrant Rights Centre in Ireland, which aims to advance the rights of all migrant workers and their families. Jayson Montenegro from the Philippines said in the report that he found support from Irish trade unions:

“At the moment I am one of the founder leaders in the campaign for Justice for documented Ireland. We started with six people, and now we have 1,500 members and 50 allies including great support from the trade union SIPTU. It makes a big difference to the group, and gives us courage to stand up and continue to fight for the rights of others. Our group believes that SIPTU is good, and that you can depend on trade unions for workers’ rights.”

In the UK undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable as they have almost no ability to claim rights at work as they have no legal status to be in the country.  The Immigration Act of 2015 made undocumented workers even more vulnerable by making undocumented working a criminal offence. This has driven undercutting, as bad employers are able to force undocumented workers to accept lower pay and worse conditions than other workers by threatening to report them to the border authorities if they complain.  This was what happened in the case of Byron Burgers earlier this year.

According to a report by the Equality Human Rights Commission on employment practices in the UK’s cleaning sector, insecure immigration status is being used by employers to force migrants to accept exploitative conditions. It is estimated that there is a higher proportion of workers paid the minimum wage in tourism, hospitality and leisure than in any other sector. Many of these workers are bullied or discriminated against, experience problems obtaining their pay, have excessive workloads, and are not treated with dignity or respect.

Trade unions are working to organise undocumented workers into unions so that they can stand up with workers that have regular status and demand better treatment. For example, when Byron Burgers facilitated UKBA’s visit to their workplace to target undocumented migrants – some of whom had been union members involved in campaigns for better conditions at work – Unite the Union brought undocumented workers together with those with legal status to demand better treatment.

Preventing bad employers from using undocumented workers to undercut other workers is necessary to ensure all workers are decently treated.  Together with our sister unions in Europe, the TUC and our affiliated unions will continue to find ways to organise migrant workers in order to tackle the exploitation these groups disproportionately face at work while calling for governments to recognise and enforce all workers’ fundamental rights at work.