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Ensuring migrants’ rights are respected helps to ensure a fair deal for all workers

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Today the Migration Observatory released a report highlighting how the introduction of work permit schemes after Brexit could increase the risk of exploitation of migrant workers and undercutting.

It’s good to see the spotlight swung onto workers’ rights in the migration debate. Much of the report echoes concerns raised by the TUC at the Home Affairs select committee recently.

The report highlights that work permit schemes increase the risk of exploitation as workers’ legal status is tied to their contract of employment. This means if workers leave their employer, they lose their legal status in the country. Workers without legal status are vulnerable to even more exploitation as they have no legal right to protections at work. And thanks to the Immigration Act (2016) irregular workers who are found by the authorities face a criminal sentence and deportation.

So even if workers employed on work permits are being poorly paid or told to work long hours there is a strong disincentive for them to challenge bad treatment or leave their employer.

This is why the TUC and unions have consistently raised concerns about work permit and tied worker schemes and highlighted the abuse that workers on tied visa schemes have suffered. For example, overseas domestic workers regularly face abuse such as imprisonment and violence. Introducing work permits for EU migrants would only add to the exploitation they already face, particularly in sectors such as hotels where many EU migrants are employed and are routinely harassed and paid below the minimum wage.

By making it easier for migrant workers to be exploited, work permits also enable bad bosses to use migrant workers to undercut other workers, lowering terms and conditions for all. That’s why ensuring migrants’ rights are respected is important for ensuring all workers are treated with respect and paid decently.

The Migration Observatory report makes a number of recommendations we would support to tackle exploitation of migrant workers, including providing information on workers’ rights in multiple languages.

The TUC has produced an online guide on employment rights in 21 languages you can access here.

Crucially our guide also highlights how to join a union which is essential for workers to be able to claim the legal rights they have at work.

We would also support recommendations in the report to increase monitoring and regulation of the labour market and recruitment agencies, with more proactive inspections by bodies such as the Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate and Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, to uncover where workers’ rights are being abused

But there are three extra actions needed to prevent exploitation of migrants and stop undercutting:

  1. All workers, regardless of immigration status, must be entitled to and able to enforce employment rights. This would stop bad employers using irregular migrants to undercut other workers and drive down conditions and pay for all. Irregular migrants are able to claim employment rights in other countries such as Belgium and the ILO has made clear, employment rights are human rights and must not be linked with immigration status.
  2. We need measures to support and extend collective bargaining across the economy to guarantee good conditions and pay for all workers. The TUC has shown that where employers have negotiated collective agreements with employers, migrants receive the same pay and conditions as other workers.
  3. We need a Brexit deal that ensures workers in the UK continue to be covered by EU employment rights – such as those recently brought in to stop undercutting – and that supports good jobs for all.
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