Illustration of a painter, a delivery man and a nanny


Do you think all workers should have basic rights and be able to report abuse and exploitation? WE DO.

The lack of fair working conditions is a key concern for undocumented migrants. Current policies deny undocumented migrants access to formal labour markets or social assistance. Therefore, most work without official contracts in undeclared jobs in order to sustain themselves and their families.

Labour markets rely on undocumented workers

Migrant workers often toil in low-wage, informal sectors that are not well‐protected. The restaurant, hospitality, agriculture, construction, retail, care, and domestic sectors rely on the presence of these workers. However, they have few possibilities to work in a safe, fair, and secure ways. Many migrant workers are pushed to work irregularly and take undeclared jobs. Restrictive and unfair conditions increase their likelihood of exploitation and loss of status. Excessive recruitment fees and costs to work abroad, can force them to endure poor conditions to repay this debt. As their residence status is often tied to their employer, they become undocumented if made redundant or forced to leave an exploitative job.

Current policies fuel exploitation and irregularity

The trend to criminalise and deport undocumented workers increases their exploitability and creates incentives for employer misconduct. Workers with an irregular status are often compelled to accept substandard and abusive conditions. They are denied the most basic workplace protections and remedies. Those who contact the police or labour authorities face arrest, deportation or other sanctions. As they working without permission, labour authorities may refuse to recognise them as workers. They often cannot access medical assistance and compensation for work place accidents. As a result, exploitation is unpunished and workers’ rights are not upheld. Employers may exploit this situation by paying well below minimum wages, without social security benefits, and some do not pay wages at all.


PICUM recommendations to improve the labour rights of undocumented workers:

  • Establish a better regulated labour market by creating more rights-based entry and stay opportunities for third country migrant workers across skill levels and labour sectors.
  • Improve labour conditions in low wage sectors to address undeclared work and exploitation by developing policies to reinforce the implementation of internationally recognised labour rights for all workers, irrespective of status.
  • Ensure that undocumented workers can report exploitation and abuse by setting up a “firewall” – a clear separation in law and practice between the powers and remit of labour and social inspectors and migration law enforcement authorities.
  • Requirements for labour inspectors to report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities should be eliminated and sharing of personal information for immigration enforcement purposes should be prohibited.
  • Allow for transition to longer-term and permanent work and residence permits in circular and temporary migration schemes as labour shortages in these sectors are generally not temporary and could lead into more irregularity and undeclared work.
  • Reduce undeclared work and irregular migration by strengthening the residence status of third country migrant workers. For example, by enabling migrant workers to change employers, providing a period of time to search for work, and ensuring loss of employment would not automatically lead to loss of residence status.
  • In labour market assessment and projections, take account of the undocumented workers who are already part of the labour force and promote ongoing regularisations based on employment and social security contributions.


Contact: Lilana Keith

Our members

PICUM’s working group on labour rights brings together member organisations to coordinate joint work in this area and exchange ideas to improve services and advocacy. The working group is chaired by an elected PICUM member. This working group addresses the working conditions of undocumented workers, their access to labour rights enforcement and labour migration system generally, in particular what concerns access to work and residence permits for low wage migrant workers. The working group has been focusing on the employers’ sanctions regime, the role of the labour inspectorates and trade unions in labour rights enforcement as well as regularisation schemes for undocumented workers and regular channels for labour migration. Find out more about the last meeting of the working group here.

Chair of the working group:

Pablo Rojas Coppari, Migrants’ Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI)

Did you miss our Legal Seminar Series on how to ensure labour rights of undocumented migrant workers in a changing economy?