27 October 2017
Employers are using EU workers’ confusion over whether or not they will have a right to stay in a post-Brexit UK to exploit them, according to reports.
Speaking to the Guardian, Barbara Drozdowicz, CEO of the East European Resource Centre (EERC), said that “there are employers who I believe now want only eastern European workers because they can treat them badly and threaten them with false information, knowing they will stay.”
“We see this a lot in unregulated work such as cleaning and construction. Cash-in-hand jobs tie people to employers and mean it is harder to get the documentation they need to have workers’ rights,” she continued.
“We have been running for years now and have always had people come to us asking for help with exploitation, especially workers in low-paid jobs such as cleaning and caring. What this referendum has done is given exploitative employers more control.”
Indeed, statistics included in a recent report by Focus on Labour Exploitation (Flex) showed that the EERC has seen demand for its advice services rise by 734% since the referendum result.
In the same report, commissioned by the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, Flex Director Caroline Robinson, explained the uncertainty that has followed the vote to leave the EU “is undermining EU migrant workers’ confidence in their rights and status, and is making it more difficult for them to speak out against abuse”.
“Clear information is urgently needed from the government to prevent unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of the fear and confusion felt by many workers,” she stated.
One problem several sources told the Guardian was holding migrants back was uncertainty over whether or not they need a permanent residence card (PRC) in order to gain employment and access workers’ rights.
Drozdowicz said some employers are misinformed and think a migrant worker now needs a PRC to be legally hired, while Axel Antoni, a spokesman for the3million campaign for EU migrants’ rights, said “this uncertain climate has meant many people feel they now have to prove their status to assert their rights – especially those with shady employers”, and that many are also finding it difficult to obtain a PRC because they have been working in precarious roles where they have many gaps in their employment history or have been paid cash in hand. “It is hard for them to prove they have worked here,” he explained.
Many of the people who spoke to the Guardian – both workers and campaigners – told of EU migrants being told by employers that they will find it difficult to find alternative work or can be easily dismissed because of their status, which leads people to think they have to stay in insecure or even abusive situations.
For instance, Lucila Granada from The Latin American Women’s Rights Services, said: “There is this implicit assumption now that people can’t complain. We’ve had women come to us saying their line managers have said to them things like: ‘You should behave because you have a European passport’.”
Alina, a worker from Poland, told the newspaper she had tried to leave a job that consistently underpaid her but was told: “Remember, you’re Polish. You won’t be able to find other work”. In the Flex report, the EERC said a Polish worker had been threatened with a knife in the restaurant where he worked because of his nationality, but stayed in the job because he felt “employment is more important than reporting the case to the police”.
Chair of the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority Margaret Beels told the Guardian that exploitation to the extent of modern slavery has become more of a problem since Brexit.
“People have gone from being unsure about their rights to being tricked into thinking that they have no rights at all,” she said. “From experience, we know that exploitative employers and criminal gangs will use any means possible to take advantage of individuals. Brexit has just offered them yet another way of doing that to another group of people.”
The Institute of Employment Rights will be discussing the effect of Brexit on employment rights at two forthcoming conferences in Liverpool and Glasgow this November. Book your place now for expert information on developments to labour law and the risks and opportunities of leaving the EU.