Government must end ‘rampant’ exploitation of migrant workers, say Unions

20 trade unions, including UNISON, the RMT and the PCS union, have condemned Government’s attempts to ‘pit’ workers against each other, and are calling for urgent action to advance the rights of migrant workers, including undocumented people, and end migrant worker exploitation.

Unions’ calls come amidst a renewed commitment to the hostile environment from Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who announced he would increase immigration raids on workplaces by 50% this year and re-start data-sharing of undocumented people’s bank accounts. It also comes in the wake of the Government announcing draconian anti-strike laws which would effectively remove this vital organising tool from tens of thousands of workers.

Signatories of the statement, which was coordinated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, say these hostile policies, along with Government’s temporary visa schemes, which have been significantly expanded since 2019, are putting migrant workers at increased risk of abuse and exploitation.

A spokesperson from the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) said:

“PCS is proud to represent almost 200,000 members, who hail from the UK and across the world. That’s why we’re taking a stand against this government’s racism and hostility, and joining calls to end migrant worker exploitation.

We have seen first-hand how the outsourcing of civil service Facilities Management functions has created a two-tier workforce in our workplaces. Whereby an outsourced workforce, which in many places is predominately made up of migrant workers, receive significantly worse pay and conditions compared to their civil service co-workers and are generally treated with a lack of dignity and respect. Ending this institutionalised racism is long overdue.”

UNISON said….

Kate Bell, Assistant General Secretary at the TUC, said:

“No matter your background, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity at work. This government has created a system where exploitation of migrant workers is rampant. From unpaid wages, to debt bondage and forced labour, to being sacked without notice – migrant workers are routinely treated appallingly by their employers, who are too often allowed to get away scot-free.

The government has totally failed to protect migrant workers from exploitative employers. That’s why the TUC will continue to demand action from government and stand up for migrant workers.”

Unions who signed today’s statement say they are committed to unionising and supporting more migrant members and will look to advance the rights of undocumented workers, who they say ‘remain at the sharpest end of workplace precarity’.

They say Government is currently putting migrant workers at risk through temporary visa schemes and say government must introduce visas which provide workers with ‘ stability and the flexibility to change employers’.

In December last year, the Government announced an additional 45,000 seasonal worker visas, up from 10,000 in 2020, despite labour exploitation experts raising significant concerns being raised about the scheme=. A 2021 report by the FLEX and the University of Fife found that 62% of respondents who came to the UK on a Seasonal Worker visa, had gone into debt to take up their roles here, putting them at high risk of exploitation.

Unions who signed the statement also say Government must separate immigration enforcement from labour market inspections, to ‘ensure everyone can safely report abuse and exploitation’, and end immigration raids on workplaces. A spokesperson from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said “every worker should be able to report abuse or mistreatment they’ve suffered on the job without fear, but this government is currently prioritising anti-migrant hostility over exploitation-free workplaces. The only people this benefits are predatory bosses – levelled up rights for migrant workers, on the other hand, would benefit all workers.”

Signatories of the statement include ASLEF, BFAWU, Community, IWW, ITF, IWGB, Musicians Union, NASUWT, NUJ, NEU, RMT, SWU, the TUC, UCU, UNISON, Unite, USDAW, USW, URTU, and the PCS.