Socialist Worker

Migrant labour: organising the unorganised

Issue No. 2068

Thousands of eastern European workers are being brutally exploited at work, according to the TUC.

The TUC surveyed 508 such workers. It found that most had insecure and poorly paid employment, with more than half of those surveyed encountering problems at work.

A quarter of the workers surveyed reported having no written contract – a figure that rose to nearly a third among agency workers.

Over a quarter had also faced problems with payment – including not being paid for hours worked, discrepancies between pay and payslips, unauthorised deductions and errors in pay calculation.

The study also found that ten times as many migrant workers as non-migrant workers were paid less than the minimum wage.

The TUC also said that nearly a third of workers were living in accommodation rented from their employers and described excessive hours – due to their employment being linked to where they lived – and poor living conditions.

Alan Fraser of the GMB union says he is pushing for greater union recognition at companies using gangmasters.

“The gangmasters licensing system isn’t working,” he says. “The way forward is to organise.

We should be fighting for migrant workers to be entitled to permanent employment and for a zero-gangmaster future.”

“People have a feeling of being lost when they arrive,” said Paulina Tomasik, secretary of a Polish speaking GMB branch in the south west of England.

She sees the union as playing a crucial role. She said, “It’s not easy when you don’t have a place to live and you don’t speak the language very well.

“Some agency workers are paid £120 a week and then told they have to pay £80 in rent. When one person objected to this he was sacked by text message.”

The survey was sent to people who had asked unions for leaflets about their rights. Unions such as the T&G section of Unite and the GMB are mobilising to recruit and organise migrant workers.

Across the country they have set up information and advice meetings and have launched a number of migrant work branches.

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