22 February 2017
Yet more unclear news today on the future for migrant workers in the UK, as Brexit Secretary David Davis said the door will not “suddenly shut” after Britain leaves the EU, but that immigration controls will increase. His words are unlikely to reassure the three million EU nationals whose lives have been thrown into uncertainty since last year’s vote to leave the EU.
But what can the trade union movement do to help protect EU workers – as well as migrants from further afield – at a time of great division over immigration policy, and in what many people fear is a society growing increasingly hostile towards migrant workers.
This question will be taken on by eight academics, campaigners and trade unionists at the forefront of migrant workers’ rights at a one-day conference held by the Institute of Employment Rights on March 15 2017.
Migrant workers – whose numbers have increased rapidly in the last 20 years – are some of the most vulnerable in the UK, with employers exploiting their lack of awareness over employment rights, their desperation for work, and the fact they are less likely to be unionised. In addition, with a greater supply of workers at their fingertips, employers have fewer incentives to provide decent pay and conditions in order to attract candidates. In this way, an increase in migrant labour has been a factor in the race to the bottom on pay and conditions, but it need not be the cause. With equality at work between migrant and UK-born workers, such as through collectively bargained for pay and conditions to set a decent standard across industries, we can ensure no section of workers is exploited or left out in the cold.
The central question of the conference will be around how we can achieve this egalitarian and protective labour market regime, and what reform may be needed around migration policy and labour standards. While this conversation is particularly urgent in the month the government will trigger Article 50, it will continue to be a prescient issue for UK workers in the years to come, regardless of whether Britain opts for a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit.
All attendees will receive a free copy of the Institute of Employment Rights’ book Labour Migration in Hard Times – a collection of essays from some of the UK’s leading experts on migration and its impact on labour standards in the context of increased hostility towards migrant labour from some sections of the public.