7 October 2021: Trade Unions: Organising and Promoting the Rights of Workers who do not have Settled Status
Why do we call for StatusNow4All?
We call upon the British and Irish States to act immediately so that all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now, as in *Indefinite Leave to Remain. In this way every human, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship can access healthcare, housing, food and the same sources of income from the State as everyone else.
There are many people working precariously in UK and at real risk of exploitation by unscrupulous ‘employers’, due to not having settled status.
Visas expire and personal circumstances change. Without settled status – Indefinite Leave to Remain – people are very much at the mercy of uncertainty as employees, and of employers. See the StatusNow4All website for a wide variety of posts about why people need settled status, and about the racist and hostile environment that puts them at risk.
• People become undocumented when they do not possess an authorisation to be in the country they are in. Some may have been born here, or lived here for many years (think of Windrush), others may have been trafficked, and most have had authorisation at some point. Their precarious situation may be due to a change in the law that complicates their situation, or an asylum application for international protection that has been refused in this deliberately hostile environment, or their visa is no longer valid so maybe someone whose student visa has finished, or lost their job whilst on a work visa, or suffered domestic abuse whilst on a spousal visa
• They may be domestic workers, care workers, or working in the garment trade, in a carwash, a sweatshop, the local takeaway, nailbars, prostitution, for gangmasters etc. etc.
• There are others who have been given a Deportation Order for what may have been a miscarriage of justice, or a crime in order to survive, and they are living indefinitely without permission to work
Employers are being used as quasi-immigration officers, and there are significant penalties if someone is employed outside the law. In this situation
• employers are exceedingly cautious about who they take on
• people who are on the Discretionary Leave to Remain pathway (which requires fee-paying renewed applications every 2.5 years for ten years) and therefore have the right to work are being sacked because of Home Office delays in processing their paperwork.
• the incentive to keep hidden any breaches of the Law are great, and therefore the pressures on the vulnerable workers increases accordingly
• people work outside of the law because they are not allowed to work legally, and would otherwise be destitute
• those in precarious work are living with the fear of being reported to the Home Office and then facing potential legal action, and/or removal from UK.
Why should people in precarious employment be of concern to Trade Unions?
#No-one is protected until all workers are protected
Focus On Labour Exploitation [FLEX ] – If workers do not know and cannot protect their own rights; if the state does not adequately enforce labour laws; if corporate practices push down standards; and if people are criminalised due to immigration status, we know that an informal economy will flourish with employers able to abuse and exploit workers with practical impunity.
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) – Safeguarding the rights of undocumented migrant workers is the best way to tackle labour abuses. We also need decent pathways for labour migration and regularisation, and to honestly evaluate why undocumented workers usually pay the price rather than unscrupulous employers.
Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants [PICUM]
Director Michele LeVoy said: “The [European] Commission calls for governments to establish safe reporting, so workers can engage with law enforcement and exercise their rights, without risks due to the immigration status. The Commission also recognises that undocumented workers face challenges to file complaints and pursue legal procedures, as is their right under the Directive, due to risks of immigration enforcement.
“We urgently need firewalls to be set up – measures that would allow undocumented migrant workers to interact with law enforcement and labour authorities and receive remedy – including due wages and compensation – without any risk of deportation.
Access to residence and work permits must also be strengthened.
“Without this, the existing monitoring and complaints mechanisms result in workers being deported while some businesses line their pockets with stolen wages. Justice systems need to work for all workers, regardless of migration status”.
What can you do?
• Raise this in your Trade Union meetings at all levels, and suggest that they work with us and become signatories of the StatusNow4All campaign
PICUM Ten ways unions can promote undocumented workers’ labour rights:
- Raise awareness of and advocate for undocumented migrants’ rights, and that protecting their rights is an essential component of the trade union agendas to advance human rights, equality and labour standards for all workers, as well as to fight racism and xenophobia.
- Secure clear commitment from the senior levels of your union to support undocumented workers’ rights.
- Draw up specific policies to enable undocumented workers to join your union. Waive, or offer a reduced fee, and the option to pay in cash. Recognise them as workers, regardless of employment status and the type of work, and issue a membership card.
- Make it a goal to organise and recruit undocumented workers. Do outreach activities (e.g. go to places where undocumented migrants work, target key sectors, distribute leaflets in several languages, hire migrant organisers), and promote their representation at all levels of the union.
- Offer information and advice services to migrants, regardless of status or union membership, through tailored service centres within your union structure.
- Pursue mediation, and if this is unsuccessful, organize collective actions, including demonstrations, strikes, media coverage, public protests and/or support filing of complaints and legal casework (individual and collective).
- Ensure that undocumented workers’ rights are included in your union’s education and training programmes, especially for union representatives and negotiators.
- Include undocumented workers’ rights in your collective bargaining agenda and tripartite dialogue in order to ensure equal treatment and prevent abusive practices.
- Build common messages with employers to advocate laws and policies that improve regulation and accountability, and raise awareness that social partners stand together with undocumented workers.
- Work in partnership with migrants’ rights NGOs and community organisations to exchange resources and expertise, and develop joint campaigns, actions, training, and advocacy. They can also help with outreach.
Sheila Mosley and Tony Conway on behalf of Status Now Midlands Region