Cross border expert groups warn of fears and confusion for cross-border workers caused by Home Office Immigration Bill

24 Feb 2020

F1 Kevin Doherty...

Cross border expert groups warn of fears and confusion for cross-border workers caused by Home Office Immigration Bill

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland (NIC ICTU), the Community Intercultural Programme (CIP) and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) have today condemned the government’s proposed Immigration Bill. The groups are calling for a system that prevents, rather than facilitates, exploitation of a vulnerable workforce.

These three groups hold a unique expertise as they are currently the only cross-border project working with people from a migrant background. Crossing Borders Breaking Boundaries is a cross-border project looking at sectarianism, racism and discrimination in the labour market. The project is funded by the PEACE IV Programme.

The groups have uncovered many cases of exploitation of EU workers and non-EU workers alike. Situations where wages are withheld, people work over 15 hour days and up to 7-day weeks. There is daily discrimination in their work and people experience verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

Kevin Doherty, spokesperson for NIC-ICTU said “The people at the hard end of this proposed bill are the same people who pick, pack and cook our food, people who care for our loved ones, people who build our roads and houses. This Bill is an absolute red herring, it’s bad for workers, bad for business, bad for communities and bad for Northern Ireland.

“What is being proposed will take two hypothetical EU Citizens, one born in Dundalk, one born in, say, Poland, and offer them different employment rights and income thresholds, for doing the same job across the border in Newry. This is not far-fetched. There are over 30,000 cross-border workers along both sides of the new frontier between the EU and UK.”

Brid McKeown spokesperson for Migrant Rights Centre Ireland added that “The proposals announced by the Home Secretary are deliberately divisive and unhelpful, especially when we look at it from the perspective of the people who live and work in neighbouring jurisdictions – the presently invisible land border between the EU and UK. The proposals are only adding to the considerable confusion and fear generated by the rhetoric of the Home Secretary. The EU Settlement Scheme is based on residency in the UK and therefore they cannot use this system.

“The Frontier Workers Scheme – as promised in the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement – is supposed to secure the rights of EU26 workers living the Republic and working in Northern Ireland. There is fear and uncertainty for people as a timeline for this scheme has still not been introduced, which given the transition period ends in Dec 2020, is a very tight timeframe.

“Employers will additionally be unsure as to the legality of employing people without EU settlement status. What Northern Ireland needs now, more than ever, is a system in which everyone has safe access to fair employment. This is a political stunt to pit workers against each other, and will only facilitate exploitation by unscrupulous employers and gangmasters.”

Stephan Smith spokesperson for CIP said “We need to value work in all sectors and at all levels, you not only acknowledge how difficult and demanding essential work like that in agri-food and healthcare is, you are ensuring everyone stands together against exploitation. When people from a migrant background’s rights are secured, so are the rights of every person living and working in this region”.

The groups are calling for Northern Irelands MPs and the Assembly to protect the rights of all workers and take a stand against divisive politics.


*ENDS*

Notes to the Editor

  • Crossing Borders Breaking Boundaries is a cross-border project looking at sectarianism, racism and discrimination in the labour market. The project is funded by the PEACE IV Programme and managed Special EU Programmes Body. Notes to Editor:
  • The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Ireland. It is responsible for managing two EU Structural Funds Programmes, PEACE IV and INTERREG VA which are designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society.
  • The Programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and in the case of INTERREG VA, Western Scotland.
  • The PEACE IV Programme has a value of €270 million and aims to address the economic and social problems which result from the existence of borders.
  • For more information on the SEUPB please visit seupb.eu