24 February 2017
Public sector union UNISON has called for increased collective bargaining coverage to prevent employers from undercutting wages through the exploitation of migrant labour, providing evidence that austerity and privatisation are a bigger problem for workers than immigration.
“In the EU, the use of migrant labour with strong collective bargaining in the workplace and a social partnership model approach (including supportive regulations on sectoral bargaining and wage boards) appears to not only mitigate any pressure on wages but also improve social cohesion,” the union said in response to a consultation by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs into Brexit and the Labour Market.
“It appears that the prevalence of the sectoral collective bargaining model across most of Western Europe has benefited both workers and employers. This can be clearly seen in the public services labour market in other EU countries, compared to the UK, where there has been higher wage growth,” it added.
Indeed, the union highlighted that collective bargaining coverage in Finland, Belgium, France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy falls between 80% and over 90% for the economy as a whole and is likely to approach 100% in the public sector.
“The most pervasive problem affecting wage decline has been austerity, particularly if we look at countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Greece where public sector pay has been frozen or cut by national governments on their own initiative or with pressure from the Troika,” the union explained. Where collective bargaining agreement were in place, however, “leaves little scope for undercutting of any migrant labour by employers”.
Unison called for the UK to at least preserve workers’ rights following the exit from the EU and also warned that in any international trade deals made following Brexit, it should be a priority that there be no agreement to allow employers to avoid collective agreements by employing migrant labour.
Next month, eight academics, trade unionists and campaigners will discuss these issues at the Institute of Employment Rights’ Migration After Brexit event. We argue that UK workers should stand in solidarity with migrant workers to collectively agree pay and conditions that allow no undercutting of any section of the workforce, thereby preventing employers from pitting workers against one another in a race to the bottom.