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TUC Black Workers’ Conference 2024 – Here to stay, here to fight, here to stand up for migrant workers

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Our Black Workers Conference over the weekend had delegates from across the movement come together in celebration, strength and solidarity.

We heard from speakers on a range of really important issues, including tackling the far right, Black women’s experiences of sexual harassment, the next phase of our anti-racism work and the need for Labour’s New Deal for Working People.  

We also held a panel discussion focusing on migrant and outsourced workers. Michelle Codrington-Rogers from the NASUWT chaired a session with Bella Fashola from the RMT and Angie Garcia and Viviane Abayomi Noutai from grass-roots migrant and domestic worker support network, Waling Waling. The personal stories of exploitation and abuse were emotional and powerful. We heard about cleaners eating their lunch in the toilets, domestic workers being subject to physical abuse and passports and wages being withheld by employers.  

Waling Waling sent strong support for the call made by the TUC and union movement in for domestic work within private households to be recognised with rights and protections under the law. Angie and Viviane shared their story of being part of the originally successful campaign from Unite the Union and other campaigning organisations that saw the 1997 Labour government introduce legislation that gave foreign domestic workers the same rights as other UK workers. This was cruelly unpicked in 2012 by Theresa May who ruled that after six months domestic workers would not be able to change employer. This left many workers trapped in abusive employment. 

The TUC, Unite, Kalayaan and Waling Waling are calling for the restoration of domestic worker visas, the regularisation of undocumented migrants and refugees, the ratification of ILO Convention 189 on domestic work by the UK government and for migrant workers and domestic workers to be explicitly included in health and safety legislation.  

Bella Fashola, from the RMT, shared details of the work they are doing to organise outsourced workers, telling conference of their success in organising workers from over 40 different nationalities to take to the picket line and demand better terms and conditions. We heard that the union is prioritising giving members on the ground the tools that they need in the workplace to challenge poor behaviour; often employers treat outsourced migrant workers unfairly because they believe that these workers don’t know their employment rights or have the ability to challenge poor treatment. Conference discussed the challenges of organising workers who are vulnerable and fearful, and heard that the RMT is focusing on building strength member by member, rep by rep.  

It’s clear that where the government introduces visa restrictions on migrant workers, abusive employers have free reign to exploit workers. That is why the TUC is calling for an end to short term visas and for employment rights to be separated from immigration status so that workers can claim their rights even if they become undocumented. 

Conference showing the work unions are doing to organise domestic as well as other undocumented workers sent a message loud and clear: where fear leads to you losing your voice, we will show our full solidarity and support. You are us and we are you and we’re here to stay, here to fight.  

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