Integrating migrants and refugees in the labour market – the role of workers’ organisations

From 18 to 19 October 2018 took place a seminar about “Integrating migrants and refugees in the labour market – the role of workers’ organisations”, organized by Europejski Dom Spotkań – Fundacja Nowy Staw, with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The most important aspect of the seminar was to present the phenomenon of migration on a global and local scale. The participants had the opportunity to get to know the conditions of these phenomena, to know the problems and challenges associated with them, and to identify the most appropriate responses to these problems, with particular emphasis on the role of employee organizations.

Conducting the seminar was particularly important because of the vital need to integrate migrants in the European labour markets. EZA President Bartho Pronk drew attention to various challenges faced in the context of the conflict in Ukraine and migration from South America, Africa and Syria. The aim of the seminar was to share good practices, exchange knowledge about how to cope with the problem of increased migration, regardless of whether it takes place in the Western, Eastern or Southern Europe.

The main topics discussed during the seminar were: regional and local strategies for the labour market integration of migrants and refugees, workers' rights of asylum seekers and immigrants, the role of non-governmental organizations and trade unions in the integration of migrants and refugees, as well as the long-term impact of migration on the economy.

During the debates the participants emphasised that the freedom to move around Europe is of great importance in this matter. The scale of the phenomenon on the given region is large depending on various variables, such as: geographical location, home and host country economy, as well as the demand for employees.

Josep Calvo Garcia from Spain drew attention to the methods of engaging migrants in jobs requiring no qualifications, and to the significant problem of illegal immigration and related organized crime. People under 18 go to open centres where they learn languages and are prepared to be independent. Most of them want to stay in Spain. Many of them are unable to adapt. Cultural differences and the will to integrate are of great importance.

Completely different challenges accompany the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with regard to migration from the conflict-affected Ukraine. Agata Dziubińska-Gawlik pointed out that a very good example of the response to these challenges is the program entitled “Together with Ukraine”, in which non-governmental organizations in cooperation with the local authorities organize support for victims of the humanitarian crisis in Donbass. With regard to the labour market issues, the seminar also presented the effects of projects aimed at helping refugees, socio-occupational activation, language training, professional adaptation and training in the field of establishing a company. The specifics of the situation of excluded people was also discussed - these people establish social cooperatives, which also include citizens of Ukraine.

During the discussion devoted to workers' rights, Justyna Wróbel, a representative of the Ocalenie Foundation, who specialises in providing legal aid to refugees and immigrants took the floor. She drew attention to the complex issues of prolonged legal procedures related to the legalization of stay and the possibility of taking up work by refugees. Maria Jose Carvallo presented key postulates regarding working conditions. In relation to this subject Lesław Nawacki, representative of the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights, emphasised that – in the light of the constitution – legal immigrants have the same employment rights as citizens of a given country.

The key aspect of the meeting agenda was the role of non-governmental and employee organizations in the labour market integration of refugees and migrants. Krzysztof Dośla – the representative of NSZZ “Solidarność”, drew attention to the fact that civil law contracts and other forms of precarization of labour are a serious problem. There are also cases of fraudulent activity, such as non-payment of remuneration, usually just before the end of the visa - this prevents legal action. By January 2019 - the association of temporary foreign workers will be formally impossible. Initiatives of Polish employee organizations can enable this. Maria Reina Martin from Portugal pointed to the need to provide social security as a condition for effective integration. She also emphasised that unjustified claims cannot be accepted– it is essential that asylum seekers understand not only their rights, but also their obligations.

A serious problem that was widely discussed is the phenomenon of human trafficking. The office of the High Commissioner for Migration is the answer to this threat. The role of Portuguese trade unions - in the context of the challenges discussed - is to combat the exploitation of workers. Especially those excluded in terms of language – they are an easy target for criminal organizations. Another phenomenon is illegal immigrants who often work in dangerous conditions, risking their health. Education is the key tool to combat such pathologies and to protect foreigners from exploitation. During the discussion several multiannual strategic plans were also presented, currently it is the strategy for the years 2015-2020. Maria Reina Martin pointed out that the decentralization of these strategies and the cooperation of the public sector with trade unions are worth considering.

In the context of the impact of migratory movements on the economy, the most frequently mentioned aspect was the impact of immigration on the demography of the Member States. Integrating foreigners and setting up families by them has a positive effect on demographic indicators. At the same time, the growing markets of Central and Eastern European countries incline the labour migrants to return to their homelands, which was noticed by Eero Mikenberg in the context of Estonia, as well as by Janina Svediene from Lithuania.

Barbara Jaczewska, PhD, from the University of Warsaw, as part of a case study, presented the theoretical aspects of the methodology of integration of refugees and migrants in the context of Berlin. During the debate, the participants tried to answer the questions – “How do we understand integration?”, “What do we expect from the migrant?”. Until recently, we understood integration as a two-sided process of acceptance in the society. In the course of the debate, the idea of a trialogue process appeared - cooperation with the country of origin of the migrant.

During the seminar, two study visits were also held. The first took place in “Ukraiński Dom” (the Ukrainian House), run by the foundation "Nasz Wybór” (Our Choice). The participants had the opportunity to learn practical aspects of support and integration of the local immigrant community in the labour market, mainly Ukrainian citizens. The second visit took place in the Warsaw Multicultural Center run by “Foundation for Somalia”, with the support of the Pro Humanum Association and the Warsaw City Hall. The participants of the seminar had the opportunity to learn the methods of supporting the immigrant community through unconventional activities, such as intercultural classes as well as running a radio station called Imi Radio.

The key recommendations identified for employee organizations are:

  • the need to provide help at the workplace;
  • providing training in the workplace and establishing advisory centres for migrants;
  • language training and trainings in the field of employee rights and duties;
  • combating discrimination;
  • further exchange of experience between employee organizations from different countries;
  • cooperation with the countries of origin of immigrants.