(Migrants’ Rights Network) Workplace immigration checks and raids: What needs to be done

by , under Aline Müller

Alina Müller

The cooperation of the management of Byron Hamburger’s with Home Office immigration enforcement officers in a sting operation earlier in the summer symbolises everything that can go wrong for migrant workers when employment law and immigration policy merge.

For many people with deep inside knowledge about the vulnerable position of migrants in the UK today, the key issues are unfair immigration regulations and harsh exploitation of workers. The type of collaboration with enforcement measures that the Home Office expects from employers when it comes to policing their workforces adds to the risks for migrant workers today.

Strong interest in this issue prompted an MRN-organised panel discussion last week.  It considered what we can learn from the Byron Hamburgers case as well as similar incidents. The aim was to develop strategies for successfully challenging immigration workplace immigration raids.

The broader context

The session looked at the Byron Hamburgers case in the broader context of worker rights and immigration enforcement to try to understand the challenges trade unionists and others concerned with the rights of workers now face.

Strategies to push back against immigration raids in the workplace need to take account of the following:

  • Raids are concentrated  in specific sectors and specific jobs within that sector, typically low-wage and precarious such as the hospitality sector.
  • Migrant workers in these sectors, particularly undocumented workers, face conditions produced by an increasingly unregulated labour market coupled with the ‘deportability’ factor of non-citizens. They are particular vulnerable and live with the constant ‘unpredictable possibility of deportation’
  • People do move between different immigration statuses and the requirements for a specific status change constantly. So we have to be careful about differentiating between documented and undocumented workers.
  • Immigration raids are racialised and gendered. A new report by Corporate Watch revealed that 12 times more men than women are arrested in workplace raids. People from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India make up 75% of those arrested. Restaurants and takeaways are the types of businesses hit in the main.

Limiting employer collusion

An expert legal opinion obtained by MRN concluded there is no legal obligation on employers to collaborate with Home Office officials on workplace raids. Employers are not obliged to give permission of entry, to hand over the personal details of employees, or to collude with immigration officials in setting traps for workers, according to this legal view.

Trade unions

Unions have an important role to play in protecting the rights of all workers, regardless of their immigration status, as immigration enforcement is increasingly a feature of many workplaces. The discussion suggested ways in which unions can perform this role:

  • There is an urgent need to provide and enforcing clear guidelines for employers on how they can deal with document checks and raids in the workplace. The TUC is in the process of updating its 2010 booklet that outlines the trade union role and identifies ways to prevent the exploitation or harassment of migrant workers.
  • Unions have to review their recruitment and organising strategies to become more effective at reaching out and representing migrant workers, including undocumented workers.

Wider community

Examples of successful worker-led campaigns like the Justice for Cleaners living wage action at SOAS, have shown both the power of workers organising and the importance of wider community mobilisation in putting pressure on employers.

Many of the businesses targeted by immigration enforcement are small high-street business often owned by ethnic minorities. Many of these employers are not aware of their legal right regarding the extent to which they have to collaborate with immigration checks and raids. Campaigning in the community could be an effective way of reaching out and engaging with them.

Modern-day slavery

The vulnerable status of many migrants in the workplace means they are confined to the most insecure and exploitative forms of employment. In many cases workers targeted by immigration enforcement, could be victims of modern-day slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

So the law can be a resource for workplace activists. To make this an effective piece of legislation for this purpose, migrant rights campaigners need to work together with organisations working to counter modern-day slavery to ensure that the legislation is enforced at the level of everyday policing as well as in political debate and policy-making.

The complexity of the labour market, coupled with the pervasive effects of the hostile immigration policy, requires broad coalitions and creative strategies that engage individual in the workplace, as well as at local authority and national policy levels.

There is a real need for constant exchanges of information between migrant workers support campaigns – covering the traditional trade unions and community-based initiatives, as well NGOs and law and policy researchers.

The central issue is how vulnerable and exploited migrant workers can boost their power to better resist the twin powers of employment and immigration law.  We must all put our heads together to work out ways to make it happen.

Read original posting here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.