Organising Migrant Workers in the UK

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2007 National Delegate Conference
27 February 2007
Carried as Amended

Conference applauds the work that UNISON has done recently in respect of organising, representing, protecting and supporting migrant workers. Conference calls on UNISON to continue its positive response to inward migration, and to take this opportunity to recruit and organise these, often vulnerable, workers. UNISON has provided recruitment and information materials in several languages, set up overseas’ nurses networks, worked in coalition with local community groups on living wage campaigns and exposing poor treatment of migrant workers, set up educational initiatives and assisted migrant workers to access services such as opening bank accounts. UNISON has also participated in the Public Services International (the global union to which UNISON is affiliated) project on migrant women health workers which produced materials to inform migrant workers of their rights before departure and upon arrival in the UK.

Conference notes that since the accession of central and eastern European countries into the European Union, A8 nationals (nationals from 8 of the states that joined the EU in 2004) are making a considerable contribution to the provision of public services across the UK. Between July 2004 and September 2006, over 500,000 A8 nationals registered to work in the UK under the Workers Registration Scheme: 14,200 registered as care workers. Thousands more have registered as dental nurses, nurses in general practice and classroom assistants and the numbers coming from outside the EU further increases the number of migrant workers with over 500,000 people coming to the UK in 2005, many of whom came specifically to work.

Conference notes that public sector employers are making increasing use of migrant workers employed through agencies, often for long periods of time. Such workers are often paid less and have worse terms of employment than the core workforce and no right to unemployment benefit or sickness. Conference believes that recruitment of migrant workers to the union is the best way to ensure that divisions in the workforce are overcome and to ensure that conditions are raised and that agency workers are not used to undermine the pay, terms and conditions of the permanent workforce.

Conference notes that migrant workers have historically been central to the building of unions and a campaign of recruitment and organisation of migrant workers is an important way of renewing and strengthening the union as well as ensuring that migrants are not exploited

Conference further notes that current migration trends mean that an increasing number (around 50%) of migrant workers are now women who in addition to the hardships faced by most migrant workers also face problems related to family separation and other issues.

Many migrant workers are unaware of their legal rights as workers in the UK and fall prey to unscrupulous employers; some of whom hold onto workers’ passports, draw up unethical contracts of employment which can include automatic deductions for sub-standard accommodation, payslip ‘administration’ and work permits; prohibit trade union membership; pay below the minimum wage or set illegal hours of work, and seek to keep these workers ignorant of their rights. Conference welcomes government policy which seeks to penalise unscrupulous employers, but wishes to see a shift in current attitudes which criminalise workers rather than those who seek to exploit them. Whilst welcoming some government initiatives, conference is concerned that the government’s proposed funding cuts for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) will mean that low paid and vulnerable migrant workers will lose access to essential language training.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)commission research to identify where migrant workers are in areas in which UNISON organises both sectorally and geographically, and the numbers involved in order to help target support and resources;

2)develop strategies to increase the organisation and recruitment of migrant workers into UNISON, paying special attention to the needs of women using the challenge X initiative to target migrant workers including those employed by agencies;

3)provide support to branches to enable them to organise and recruit overseas workers;

4)develop and disseminate educational tools for members to counter propaganda and racism which seek to demonise migrant workers and detract from the contribution they make to public services;

5)develop links with sister unions overseas to exchange information about all issues related to labour migration, including the potential impact on public services in the developing world;

6)campaign with others for the government to abandon its policy of means-tested ESOL training and to ensure that employers operating a life long learning strategy ensure access to migrant workers, including those employed through agencies;

7)campaign to strengthen the current laws around illegal employment so that employers and not workers are punished;

8)work with UNISON’s affinity partners to develop additional membership services to meet the specific needs of migrant workers;

9)work with other Trades Union Congress affiliates at regional level to co-ordinate support to, and recruitment of, migrant workers in UNISON’s 12 regions.

10)campaign to ensure that migrant workers who fall ill or who become unemployed have access to basic necessities such as housing and basic income which is currently denied. Work to ensure that social workers are educated in the rights of migrants to assistance under human rights legislation and supported with their employer in seeking to fulfil those duties.