Building solidarity, stopping undercutting

A trade union response to the Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill
Report type
Consultation response
Issue date
16 May 2019
Key findings

The government’s plans for immigration post-Brexit would introduce a new form of exploitation and encourage undercutting by ending EU citizens’ right to work and live in the UK without needing a visa. Its proposals would also increase discrimination, lead to further strains on public services and increase shortages in vital jobs.

We need a different approach to immigration that ensures that nobody’s rights at work are undermined and everyone has access to decent public services and skills training.

The hostile environment and scapegoating of migrants for the problems workers are experiencing with low pay, precarious work and austerity must end. Instead, the government must strengthen workers’ rights and their ability to claim them through a union and provide proper investment in public services and skills.

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Summary

Migrant workers make a valuable contribution to our society and economy, whether it is leading trade union campaigns for dignity at work, working in key roles in the NHS or in manufacturing jobs where unions’ collective agreements guarantee that all workers are paid the rate for the job.

Some workers worry about how migrant workers have been used to undercut other workers where there is no union agreement to guarantee decent pay and conditions, as well as lack of investment in local skills and pressures on public services caused by over a decade of public sector cuts. Rather than address these concerns, the government’s plans for a post-Brexit immigration system would exacerbate them. This report shows the government’s plans would concentrate power further in the hands of exploitative employers, increase discrimination as well as strains on public services and shortages in key public sector jobs.

The Immigration and Social Security coordination bill introduced in January would repeal EU laws on free movement and social security coordination. This would enable the government to introduce the system of time-limited permits for EU workers post-Brexit that was outlined in the immigration white paper published in December.

This proposed work permit scheme would fuel undercutting. As we’ve seen before when schemes like this are introduced, bad employers would be able to use EU workers’ fear of losing their legal status in the country to force them to stay in a job with abusive conditions and low pay. This would undermine conditions for all workers, particularly those who are already working in sectors such as hospitality and care, where precarious conditions are common.

Trade unions in Canada and Australia have documented how their temporary visa schemes that restricted migrant workers’ ability to change employer also led to abuse and undercutting.

The government’s immigration proposals also stand to increase discrimination across society. BME groups are already disproportionately targeted in the document checks introduced or expanded by the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016. As the government’s new immigration proposals would require EU workers to demonstrate they had the correct visa to access employment, healthcare, banking and housing, the number of document checks is likely to increase. This, in turn, risks a significant increase in discrimination against BME groups and mean BME groups would be further at risk of losing access to vital services.

The Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill must be scrapped and the hostile environment must end.

Rather than policies which scapegoat migrants and fuel discrimination, we need a new approach built on strong rights at work so that everyone is treated decently and paid fairly. There must be support for trade unions to collectively bargain with employers so workers can claim their rights and stop undercutting. We need proper investment in public services and skills so that everyone has the opportunity to progress at work. And we need the right approach to Brexit that ensures workers continue to be protected by EU levels of rights to support this.