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European migrant workers course provides fascinating insightsAngie Birtill is a tutor at the Trade Union Studies Centre of South Thames College and has previously been a Labour councillor at the London Borough of Camden as well as working for the London Irish Women’s’ Centre. Maureen Watson teaches trade union studies at Stevenson College, Edinburgh after spells as a social worker and then a secondary school teacher. They recently attended a European Trade Union Institute course, held in Madrid, on Migrant Workers in Europe.
The course was attended by 18 delegates from 10 countries. It focussed on the situation of migrant workers in the current recession. As the delegates reported, the crucial question to emerge was the best way to safeguard equality of treatment for migrant workers. Could European institutions be depended upon or did trade unions need to organise themselves? The clear message from the course was that there is a need for self-organisation. Secondly, it was imperative to recognise the differences between the traditions and experiences of Northern Europe from that of the South, in particular Greece and Spain which are now the main entry points for migrants to Europe.
Speakers painted a picture of migrant workers being increasingly seen as a negative problem rather than as a positive resource within the labour market.
Nunzia Castelli, from the University of Castilla La Mancha, talked about the disadvantages for migrant workers of the separation of work from citizenship. She argued forcefully that the place of work rather than nationality, should determine citizenship. If immigrants are seen as foreigners, this has negative consequences not just upon their rights, but also upon the working conditions of all workers. Christos Triantafillou, an economist with the Greek federation of unions, INE-GSEE, blamed the failure of globalisation, the tyranny of the markets, the reduction in the proportion of wealth produced going to wages and investment together with the increase in income inequalities and the liberalisation of financial markets for the current crisis.
Paco Soriano of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) reported on three directives being discussed at the European Parliament that are of concern to the ETUC. They are the single work permit directive, the seasonal workers directive and the directive on migrant workers sent to the EU by a multi-national company. The ETUC feels that all three of these directives will lead to the economic, social and political exclusion of the most vulnerable groups of workers/asylum seekers, refugees, seasonal workers and apprentices. In particular the single work permit directive gives no guarantee of decent work under equality of treatment.
The whole conference was concerned at the blatant flouting of progressive directives by Member States, with mention being made of the Viking and Laval rulings at the European Court of Justice.
At the final plenary session the following actions were proposed:
On a personal level we both found the course challenging. There is knowledge at ETUC level of European regulations and directives from which we learnt a considerable amount. There was also a learning curve for both of us about terminology – social dumping, wage dumping, tax dumping, mobile workers – to name but a few.
The exchange of information about the specific experiences of each Member State was fascinating, in particular the different historical traditions between the north and south of Europe. We both felt that the conference was a marvellous opportunity to exchange information and that we had come away inspired to raise the profile of the campaign for migrant workers within the British trade union movement.