Joint US/EU Conference on Health and Safety at Work
Orlando, Florida, USA
14-16 September 2005
Report of Work Group on (im)migrant Workers Safety and Health
Chair: Jackie Nowell, US
Co Chair: Victor Kempa, EU
Scribe: Daniel Kelly, EU
The Work Group was privileged to be chaired by Jackie Nowell and to take part in the presentations by delegates from the UK, Poland, Italy, Malta and Ireland as well as by Viktor Kempa, the Co Chair. These presentations provided the participants with relevant information and consequently, members were encouraged to make constructive interventions..
The Work Group initially spent a considerable time debating issues relating to definition. Although a definition was not required, the Group learned that each side, EU and US, have a different interpretation due mainly to the geographic make up of each and also due to legal terminology.
A definition was therefore not arrived at; the explanation of the interpretation of what a migrant worker was by each side informed subsequent discussion during the deliberations of the Work Group at the conference. It was decided that working out an agreed definition would not be possible in the time available and that this for another forum.
The issue of legal Vs illegal migrants also arose but it was agreed that this was also for another forum. The Group decided to address occupational safety and health for all migrant workers.
The topic of the safety and health of migrant workers needs specific attention.
Nevertheless in a total workforce of c.350 million between the EU and the US, where 1.5m migrant workers arrive into the EU 25 each year and where there is also movement within the widely diversified 25, and, where one in every two of the new US labour force is foreign born and the US has high net immigration, the topic of the safety and health of migrant workers needs specific attention just as the sectors of high risk like construction, mining need attention from an occupational safety health and welfare viewpoint. The phenomenon of migration is of increasing significance in the context of demographic and changes in the world of work particularly contracting, small businesses and the rise of precarious employment.
Migrants make a significant contribution to the economies of both the EU and the US and it should not be that this is at a cost to them in terms of poor working conditions leading to accidents.
Dirty, Dangerous & Demanding
Many migrant workers are more than capable of looking after themselves - those who are professionals in sought after professions who have a high standard of education and language skills. These workers have the power of their education, their profession, and their earning power, to ensure a good deal for themselves.
The Work Group at the Orlando conference was thinking of those at a more vulnerable level, those in the dirty, dangerous and demanding jobs which native US and EU workers in the modern age do not want. For those in this category of employment, it is more difficult to face issues like language, cultural differences and discrimination. Communication is a major issue for those whose education is limited. Because of their often vulnerable position socially, legally and educationally, safety and health is often not a priority for these workers. The authorities therefore have a responsibility; the issue of protecting migrant workers safety and health is here to stay and requires immediate attention. The EU and US economies need these workers because of economic development and demographic factors. These economies can face an uncertain future if these workers are not available. Of course, these workers also need protection.
A picture of the problem is needed.
The Work Group decided that an accurate picture of the numbers, the sectors, the specific risks and other issues was needed if we want to take specific measures to protect migrant workers. There is a varied range of information on both sides of the Atlantic but there is no coherent comparative data. Comparing both sides of the Atlantic, the Work Group considered that the US has a better database on which to base solutions for dealing with this topic.
All workers have the same protections in law and no sector is exempt. Target sectors are decided on by risk and for instance construction has been targeted on both sides of the Atlantic with sizable proportions of resources devoted to advocating safety and to inspections and follow action. This sector also has big migrant workforces in Europe and the USA. Other sectors like agriculture of course also have sizable migrant populations and much effort has been made to reach migrants in this area also.
To get the accurate picture, so that productive action can be taken, the Work Group recommends that a future endeavour on the lines of a joint survey based on empirical data or parallel surveys/studies with core points of information to be agreed should be undertaken. This action is necessary because the size of the problem is not apparent as record keeping is a problem and any data gathered needs to be focussed.
Of course the Conference acknowledges the immigrants have a range of other problems wider than occupational safety and health but an OSH solution will contribute to overall worker welfare due to the percentage of life spent at work and other attendant influences.
Next EU/US conference
The Work Group also recommends that this topic be carried forward to the next EU/US conference became of its importance to workers' welfare and to the economies of both EU and US.
Action to help migrants
One has to be sure migrants and all workers understand the situation in where they find themselves from an OSH perspective. Information needs to be made available in a form in which it can be understood. The Work Group heard a wealth of information on successful examples of programmes provided to migrants by Trade Unions, Employers Groups, Government Departments and agencies and community groups. The EU website EURES, the European job mobility portal has a very wide range of good information which can help workers including migrants.
Much of what has been learned in US has come from community groups. Outreach is a major tool used especially effectively in the US. For example, family days, soap operas with OSH message, Spanish language TV, formal alliances to provide education and training.
Pictograms setting out good practice, language translations for agriculture workers are used in varying degrees in both EU and US.
The Work Group are of the view that Government, Unions and Employers need to think of core points to more forward developing what has been done . The Group proposal, on the EU side, is to ask the EU Commission through its agencies to explore the issue of migrant workers OSH by developing programmes on the lines of OSHA and NIOSH programmes possibly though European Agency for Safety and Health at Work using its Focal Points, or, as a subject for European Week for Safety and Health at Work.
The Work Group also advocates that the US good examples need to be continued, expanded and supported because they get results by targeting the correct audience.
Sharing information between EU and US institutions
The Work Group considered that work should be undertaken with a view towards sharing information between EU and US institutions on migrants including best practices for instances on a common website. Contributions from Employer groups, Trade Unions, community groups, government organisations etc would be welcome in this important task. To achieve this objective, the Work Group proposes organising a work group representative of both EU and US sites to implement these recommendations. This will monitor work through electronic communications.
Summary of Recommendations of the Work Group on (im)migrants workers safety and health
- Joint EU/US survey or parallel surveys to collect empirical data. Core points of information to be agreed.
- Advocate that the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work use its Focal Points in EU Member States to give attention to the safety, health and welfare of migrant workers the development of more outreach programmes in Europe and that the Agency promote this.
- Advocate that the issue become a subject for European Week for Safety and Health at Work in the future.
- Continue support in the USA for the outreach programmes there.
- Place this subject on the agenda for the next EU/US conference to monitor progress.
- Sharing of good practice information between both sides, US, EU.
The problem of health and safety of migrant workers is urgent. There is no reason to postpone political decisions when Health & Safety are concerned. If this aspect is not dealt with urgently, it could lead to the worsening of safety and health of workers in general. In addition, it would cause widespread inhuman practices at the workplace. The cumulative impact of these factors could endanger both EU and US economies and would intensify social inequalities in health.