Thousands of trade union members are EU citizens. They staff our hospitals, teach our children and help to run our industries.
They are a vital part of our movement and our campaigns to win better pay and conditions for all working people.
Shamefully, the government continues to deny EU citizens guaranteed security or rights at work after Brexit.
Instead, the government has launched an application process called the EU Settlement Scheme. All EU citizens in the UK (except Irish citizens and UK-EU dual nationals) have to apply to this scheme to claim the permanent right to remain in the UK – or ‘settled status’.
But crucially, EU citizens can be refused permanent residency rights (and permanent rights at work and to social security) under this scheme and instead be granted a temporary kind of immigration status called ‘pre-settled status’.
The government’s own figures show over 160,000 people have been refused settled status and relegated to ‘pre-settled’ status. Meanwhile over a million more people who haven’t yet applied to the Settlement Scheme are at risk of receiving the same treatment.
Unions report that people in precarious employment, such as warehousing, agriculture and cleaning, are most likely to be refused settled status because they often lack adequate evidence of contacts, bank accounts or rental contracts.
The ‘hostile environment’ legislation championed by former prime minister Theresa May means that workers without secure immigration status risk being denied access to employment, healthcare, housing and bank accounts.
This means that workers already in vulnerable employment risk becoming even more marginalised.
Union reps play an essential role in supporting EU members who are concerned about their immigration status and preventing discrimination.
That’s why we’ve launched an online guide to provide reps with information to support EU members concerned about their experiences applying for the EU settlement scheme and their immigration status.
Reps have flagged that some employers are already using the scheme as a means to discriminate against and victimise workers from the EU.
Even though employers are not required to ask for proof that workers have settled status until January 2021, some employers are already threatening to dismiss workers who haven’t obtained this status.
That’s why our guide also provides information to support reps in negotiations with employers to prevent discrimination on the basis of immigration status.
It also shows how preventing discrimination against EU workers is essential to stop employers from being able to victimise and discriminate against UK workers.
We know that in workplaces where employers can discriminate against migrant workers, there is also discrimination against more marginalised UK workers, such as those on zero-hours contracts.
Building solidarity in the workplaces has never been more important. The Home Secretary Priti Patel has made clear in any forthcoming election the Tories will put anti-migrant, xenophobic policies and rhetoric front and centre.
Such rhetoric and policies are also anti-worker, as they seek to divide workers and fuel undercutting and discrimination.
Engaged and informed trade union reps are essential to bring workers together to demand decent treatment for all and show unions stand up for members from all countries.
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