Working together to win fairness for migrant workers

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date: 8 December 2006

embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 11 December 2006

Despite the huge benefits that migrant workers bring to the economy, many find that the reality of working in the UK is one of exploitation, dangerous working conditions and jobs well below their skill levels, the TUC will say today (Monday).

In a speech to a TUC conference in London, organised to encourage unions and agencies to work together to help migrant workers get fairer treatment at work and in their everyday lives, TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady will say:

'Migrant workers make a massive contribution to our economy, public services and national life. Some have a positive experience of working in Britain, but the day-to-day reality many face is exploitation, dangerous working conditions, and employment far below their skill level. These problems are often made worse by a lack of English, little awareness of basic rights, and public prejudice.

'The migrant worker horror stories are sadly all too familiar, but that doesn't make them any less shocking. Like the two Filipino women being paid £75 for an 80-hour week at a Norfolk care home. The Portuguese man and his pregnant wife working on a farm in Lancashire, sharing a house with 17 others, and left with just £6 a week to live on after deductions. This is not some Dickensian nightmare - this is happening here and now, in Britain, in 2006.

'Our challenge is to fight these terrible injustices whenever and wherever they occur and to build support for migrant workers both in our workplaces and in our communities.

'The only way to prevent employers from using migrant labour to undercut terms and conditions, and to prevent exploitation, is through stronger rights, better enforcement of the law, and trade union organisation. Whether they are from Warrington or Warsaw, Burnley or Bucharest, Lancaster or Lagos, all workers should be treated with respect, treated equally and paid a decent, living wage. That way, everybody benefits.

'The best protection migrant workers can have is the protection of a trade union.

But with fewer than a quarter of migrant workers currently belonging to a trade union, it's clear we must step up our efforts.

'Across the UK, many unions are working really hard to reach out to migrant workers, but unions can't win a better deal for migrant workers on their own. We must build closer alliances with the many organisations who are concerned with the welfare of migrant workers and immigrants generally. Unions, NGOs, citizens' advice bureaux, charities, welfare organisations and community groups must work in partnership towards a common goal - fairness for migrant workers.

'One way of tackling exploitation of migrant workers would be for the UK Government to introduce a social agreement on migration between ministers, employers and the unions, just as the Irish Government has recently done. This has at its heart support for an open labour market, but is accompanied by stronger enforcement of employment rights and tougher penalties for rogue bosses who exploit vulnerable workers.'


- 'Building Support for Migrant Workers' takes place on Monday 11 December 2006 from 10am to 4pm at Congress House, Great Russell Street WC1. Speakers on the day include Immigration Minister Liam Byrne MP, TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady, T&G Deputy General Secretary Jack Dromey and Citizens Advice Director of Advice July Walker. If you would like to attend the conference email Tanya Warlock in the TUC's Europe and International Department [email protected]

- Activities that the TUC has undertaken recently to support migrant workers include: work in the South West developing links with migrant community groups; winning a commitment from the UK and Polish Governments to close a loophole that meant Polish workers were taxed here and at home on the same earnings; and attending an international jobs fair in Warsaw to provide Polish workers interested in working in the UK with information about work rights and joining unions.

- The TUC has also been working with Solidarnosc to ensure Polish workers are not exploited in the UK and is developing a Polish version of the TUC's advice website

- Early next year the TUC is planning to publish with Citizens Advice a guide to non-employment matters for migrants coming to work in the UK. This will include advice on dealing with private letting agencies and private landlords; preparing for the UK driving test; registering a child for school; registering with a GP and a dentist; and opening a bank account. The TUC has already produced employment rights advice leaflets in Polish and Portuguese.


Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07778 158175; E: [email protected]

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