On International Migrants Day, let’s fight for the rights of undocumented workers

Published date
18 Dec 2017
All too often, undocumented workers suffer exploitative working conditions, because the law doesn’t protect their rights at work.
Credit: Klaus Vedfelt

They’re at risk of being underpaid, having their wages stolen, being denied basic working rights like sick leave and basic health and safety protections. And if they complain or challenge their conditions, many are threatened with being sacked and deported.

So today, on International Migrants Day, the TUC joins with unions around Europe in calling for recognition of undocumented migrants’ rights.

Workers’ rights are human rights, so every worker has them regardless of their status. That’s why trade unions are fighting for these rights to be enforceable for the more than three million undocumented workers in the EU.

Trade union 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.

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 2016 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 in 2016.

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’s 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 from employers. 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 brought undocumented workers together with those with legal status to protest against the way the immigration raids had been carried out and stand against discrimination from their employers.

Together with our sister unions in Europe, the TUC and our affiliated unions will continue to advocate for undocumented workers to have employment rights and organise migrant workers so they can claim these rights.

Only by preventing bad employers from using undocumented workers to undercut other can we ensure all workers are decently treated. 

Image: Klaus Vedfelt