Labour and the Right to Fair Working Conditions

Keywords: European policy, Fair Working Conditions, United Nations

Undocumented migrant workers are employed across the European Union, the United States and other global regions and thus contribute considerably to these economies.

The attractiveness of undocumented workers can be attributed to their flexibility, availability and most importantly, because they are cheap to employ. By denying them fair working conditions, employers are able to respond to the growing consumer demand. Companies often resort to cutting costs by lowering standards of working conditions. With nationals generally unwilling to accept such work, such jobs are often filled by undocumented migrants who are forced to accept substandard working conditions.

Undocumented workers often work long hours, in dangerous and unhygienic conditions. Many do not receive their wages or receive less than was agreed upon and may be fired without being given due notice, etc. If they are apprehended due to irregular labour, undocumented workers will general face deportation without being able to claim their last wages.

PICUM has identified the urgent need to find a solution to this distorted situation, in which undocumented migrants are criminalized and chased on the one hand, and desired and exploited on the other. PICUM seeks concrete ways in which undocumented workers can achieve protection when they are exploited or abused.

The Right to Fair Working Conditions

The  principle of safeguarding basic safe and fair working conditions such us remuneration for all workers, including those who are undocumented, is expressly protected in instruments listed below, all of which attempt to promote equality amongst both migrant workers and nationals.

PICUM's Actions for the Protection of Undocumented Migrant Workers

PICUM members have increasingly indicated the importance of protecting undocumented workers. These organizations are confronted on a daily basis with the reality of abuse and exploitation of undocumented migrants in the workplace. A growing number of civil society actors and policy makers recognise the serious risk inherent in tolerating a situation in which a certain group of workers is denied their rights.

PICUM led a working group of European organisations to develop a common position in relation to the European Commission's Directive on Employer Sanctions. PICUM, in collaboration with ENAR, Solidar and several other organisations, issued several position papers during the development of the EU proposals for legislation on sanctions for employers of ‘illegally staying third-country nationals’. The directive was passed by the European Parliament in February 2009.

Click here to access PICUM's position papers on this Directive.

This PICUM study presents a wide range of examples of the numerous ways in which NGOs, trade unions and other actors uphold the rights of undocumented workers in Europe and in the United States.To contribute towards a just and pragmatic policy for migrant workers, PICUM has detailed information obtained from NGOs, trade unions and other actors working with and advocating for undocumented workers, both in Europe and in the United States. Grouped in ten actions, a range of methods are presented that contribute to the aim of respecting the dignity of undocumented migrants as humans and as workers.

As part of this initiative, PICUM held a series of events in March 2006.

i) CONFERENCE: 'Protecting Undocumented Workers in Europe'

On 23 March 2006, PICUM, with the support of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), held a conference on the successes and strategies for protecting undocumented migrant workers.

More than 100 representatives of NGOs, trade unions, governmental bodies, researchers, and other actors shared experiences and ideas about how to protect undocumented workers from exploitation and abuse.

Click to access: REPORT

ii) POLICY DIALOGUE:  'Ten Ways to Protect Undocumented Workers'

On 24 March 2006, PICUM, in cooperation with the King Baudouin Foundation and the European Policy Centre, held a policy dialogue 'Regularisation is not the only policy: Ten Ways to Protect Undocumented Migrant Workers' to explore the steps which can be taken to protect migrant workers from exploitation.

Click to access: REPORT (EN)

PICUM's first International Conference was held in May 2003  on the topic of 'Undocumented Migrant Workers in Europe' at the European Parliament.

The conference and its ensuing report highlight the contributions made by undocumented workers to various sectors of the European economy.

The seminar included presentations on the protection of undocumented workers by experts representing governmental institutions as well as civil society, as well as workshops for representatives of the various organizations profiled in the report, from both Europe and the United States. The workshops were tailored to address the specific challenges in providing support in the various sectors where undocumented workers are employed (agriculture, construction, domestic work, services, etc.) as well as in the local and national contexts.

Click to access: Report (EN)

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