17 February 2017
Migrant workers are being deliberately mislead on their rights, allowing employers to exploit them, the leader of the government’s review into employment law and the gig economy has said.
Matthew Taylor – a former adviser to Tony Blair, who was hired by Theresa May to review employment law earlier this year – told the Guardian that some employers do not tell migrant workers they are eligible for paid annual leave.
“Some agencies are deliberately not telling workers, particularly migrant workers, that they have holiday pay entitlements,” he told the Guardian, proposing that temporary workers should be legally entitled to receive written terms and conditions within a week of starting their jobs to ensure their rights are made transparent.
Indeed, the Institute of Employment Rights has long argued that migrant workers are among some of the most vulnerable in society.
In our 2013 publication on the issue: Labour Migration in Hard Times, Professor of European Socio-Legal Studies at London Metropolitan University Sonia McKay highlighted that migrant workers are more likely to use agencies than other methods of finding employment, and some agencies in the UK charge migrants for finding them work, even though this process is illegal. What’s more, migrant workers may be more likely to accept work that falls below their skill level and that is paid at a much lower rate than they could command in their home country out of desperation (indeed, a recent Channel 4 Dispatches investigation found suppliers to high street retailers were paying migrant worker as little as £3 an hour!) Some are working to send money home to poor relatives, for example, which increases their motivation to accept lower pay and conditions. Social exclusion, especially in an environment increasingly hostile to migrant labour, can also increases workers’ vulnerability to abuse. Importantly, migrant workers are often not organised into trade unions and so employers are more likely to evade employment law without facing resistance.
Such exploitation of migrant workers serves to benefit unscrupulous employers and facilitates a race to the bottom on employment rights. As well as creating hardship and injustice for migrant workers, it serves to drive down wages and conditions in low-skilled sectors, and puts migrant and non-migrant workers in such a position that they must compete against one another – an environment that tends towards increased anti-immigration sentiment and has harmful effects on both British and migrant workers.
As we will explore at our Migration after Brexit event on March 15 this year, migrant rights are an issue that is here to stay regardless of whether a ‘hard’ of ‘soft’ Brexit is enforced. A high proportion of immigrants arrive from non-EU countries, and even within the EU, workers with temporary visas may be more open to exploitation than even before.
Experts from the worlds of academia, campaigning and trade unions will discuss how we can prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in order to stop the abuse of vulnerable people and protect the workforce as a whole from a race to bottom that benefits only the rich.