Labour migration

Fair employment conditions for migrant workers in the EU—How to provide better support services for migrants?

Under the current German EU Presidency, the German Ministry of Labour recently asked the ILO to facilitate a workshop on how to improve working conditions for migrant workers within the EU. The workshop recommends expanding support services for migrant workers, especially information on rights at work and working conditions in the native language of the worker.

News | 09 October 2020


Labour migration in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the entire Europe increased significantly over the past decade. According to Christiane Kuptsch, ILO migration specialist, 33 Mio labour migrants are currently working in the EU. They account for 17% of the entire EU labour force. An estimated 1.6 Mio persons are free movement temporary migrants within the EU working outside their country of usual residence. This figure increased by 20% over a five-year period. Throughout the world, migrants have a higher labour force participation rate than non-migrants showing that labour migrants go where the jobs are in order to fill labour shortages. The difference is particularly high in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe (72% for migrants vs. 55% for non-migrants). 

Within the European Union, there is mobility and free movement for workers.  In view of labour shortages in certain sectors, the EU allows for „circular migration schemes” from outside the Union, equally benefitting destination and sender countries, and migrants. Destination countries benefit from workers without paying for their education and at no costs for their integration into society; origin countries receive remittances and investments made by those coming back; and migrants receive higher wages than in their home countries.  However, this „triple win narrative” has been called into question, particularly since the outbreak of COVID-19.  Many migrants had to return home to ensure receipt of proper health coverage, and those who could still cross borders are at an increased risk, notably of insufficient safety and health at work. There have been numerous cases of exploiting migrant workers and not respecting their rights at work. A key reason is that migrant workers often lack information about migration modalities and their rights.

At the online conference „Our Social Europe—Strong Together” organised by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs under their presidency of the Council of the European Union, participants were looking for solutions how employment and fiscal policy can help to bolster the convergence of living conditions throughout Europe.  The ILO Budapest and Berlin offices facilitated the workshop focusing on fair conditions for temporary migrant workers. The task given to ILO by the German Ministry was to come out with concrete recommendations on how to improve information for migrant workers.
"The problems migrants encounter to a large extent stem from information deficit before and after they leave their home countries as well as from language problems."
The problems migrants encounter to a large extent stem from information deficit before and after they leave their home countries as well as from language problems. Recruitment practices and procedures are not always fair and workers are not informed about their rights or the legal/administrative services available for them.  Trade unions provide services for migrants in many cases, yet, the synergies with state actors or NGOs active in assisting migrant workers are undeveloped. At the workshop, practitioners shared information about the types of support services they provide to EU labour migrants. Justyna Oblacewicz, project manager of Fair Mobility implemented by the German trade unions with support from the German Ministry of Labour, reported that the main support needed is legal advice. The most frequent cases presented by advice seekers are unfounded dismissals, wage arrears, and unsafe working conditions. The nine advisory centres of Fair Mobility in Germany employ 22 counsellors with each of them speaking at least one language from Central and Eastern Europe. The services are in high demand. 16,000 mobile workers contacted the centres for advice in 2019.

The most recent player is the European Labour Authority, a new EU agency that started its operation in October 2019 and will soon move to Bratislava. Frederico Pancaldi, Team leader for Information services to citizens and employers, explained that about 17 million European citizens currently live or work in another Member State – twice as many as a decade ago. A key service of the new agency will be to provide information on the rights of mobile workers and that EU rules on labour mobility and social security coordination are enforced.
"Access to information is a corner stone of free movement and fair migration, which can reduce inequalities across the EU."
Access to information is a corner stone of free movement and fair migration, which can reduce inequalities across the EU. The conclusive recommendations to improve the provision of information for temporary migrants workshop participants proposed are: 

Recommendation #1: The European Commission should take the lead in setting up a transnational advisory service network for migrant workers (funded by the EU), with the involvement of the social partners and migrant organisations. It should be a legal obligation for EU member states to provide information for migrants in all EU languages, through a dedicated central website and phone application.

Recommendation #2: The EU member states and governments should designate one lead authority in each country to coordinate multilevel efforts and information services for temporary migrants. Countries of origin would have the responsibility to inform about legal possibilities to migrate for work. Destination countries have the responsibility to request employers for information on migrant workers so that they and service centres can be connected, to provide services to register complaints and to help migrant workers find remedies.