Listening to migrant workers at Holyrood

Lunchtime meeting, Committee Room 4 of the Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 18 June 2008

read a report of the meeting below, or download in pdf format from Migrant Rights Network

The Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) in conjunction with UNISON Overseas Nurses Network (ONN) and the STUC held a meeting in the Scottish Parliament, with the aim of giving MSPs the opportunity to hear the views and experiences of migrant workers who are living and working in Scotland. The meeting, which saw the participation of around 37 migrants from 16 different countries (Philippines, Australia, USA, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, India, China, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia) along with representatives from NGOs and trade unionists, was also an opportunity for Unison to launch the ‘Minimum Standard Charter for Migrant Workers’.

The meeting was introduced by the Chair Mary Senior, STUC assistant secretary, who thanked all the people present, particularly the organisers and the migrants. She outlined the important role played by migrant workers in the British society and the need to protect their rights and make sure they are not exploited. Mary Senior passed the floor to Scottish Labour MSP Marlyn Glen, who further welcomed all the attendees to the Parliament.

The focus of the meeting was the presentation of migrant workers’ own experiences in Scotland, reported through a series of short but powerful personal statements from those present. The majority of participants had been living and working in Scotland for at least 5 years, mainly employed in the public sector as nurses, or as senior care workers.

The presentations initially focused on various problems which had been encountered by migrant workers in relation to the Home Office and the UK Border Agency. A nurse from Zimbabwe, who has been working in the UK since 2003, reported that obtaining a visa to work here is now much more difficult than it used to be. Other attendees’ comments also reported the complexity of the British immigration system, illustrating the difficulties for non EU nationals in getting a visa, the length of time to submit a case to the Home Office, and the high degree of bureaucracy.

Particular concerns were reported in relation to the new Points-Based System (PBS) and its five Tiers for migrant workers. An Indian woman outlined the difficulties she had encountered in transferring from the Scottish ‘Fresh Talent’ Scheme to Tier 1 of the PBS, which had forced her to seek legal support. Other migrants reported the difficulties for those whose skills may now not be considered adequate to qualify for entry or extension of leave under the PBS. Under the PBS, for example, senior care workers may no longer qualify for renewal of leave to remain due to a reassessment of the skills content for this profession. A senior care worker from the Philippines spoke of her anxiety about the continuation of her indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

The issues faced by migrant workers were not restricted to difficulties with the Home Office. A number of participants reported that qualifications obtained in other countries are often not fully recognised in the UK by potential employers. As result many migrants find themselves unable to find work which fits their skills. Others noted they had been victims of racism and discrimination in the workplace and in some cases bullied and exploited.

There was a general agreement on the need to raise awareness among the public about the valuable contribution migrants make to the British economy, in order to avoid discriminative attitudes and xenophobia. The common sense of commitment to living in Scotland remained, despite the problems outlined by a couple of participants, including a Polish attendee, in gaining acceptance from local communities in Scotland. A Ugandan man pointed out that British society needs to respect migrants and the qualifications and abilities that they bring to the UK.

Dr Helen Crowley, from London Metropolitan University and migrant herself (originally from Australia) also took part in the discussion. She welcomed the meeting as a great opportunity for migrants overcome isolation, by sharing experiences and talking to each other about what it is like to live and work in the UK as a migrant. She also mentioned a publication she is currently working on entitled Rhythms and realities of everyday life, which has been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and aims to foster the development of policies strengthening social cohesion and civil society.

During the meeting Dave Watson, Senior Regional Officer at UNISON, noted that in order to fight exploitation there is a need to challenge misunderstandings about migration and address unacceptable behaviour. Employers of migrant workers need to have with full information and a code of practice to be able to cope effectively with migrant workers. For this reason, he commented, Unison has decided to launch the Migrant Workers’ Employment Charter and is asking all public authorities to adopt it.

Ruth Grove-White, the Migrants’ Rights Network Policy Worker, made clear that supporting migrants’ workers rights is one of the MRN’s high priorities in promoting migrant rights across the UK. The MRN anticipates that the impact of the government’s new civil penalty enforcement regime for employers, and the ongoing roll-out of the PBS, will mean that there will continue to be the need for migrants to pursue fair and equal treatment in the UK. A current MRN research project, ‘Papers Please’, is examining the implementation of UKBA fines for employers found employing undocumented migrant workers. As a follow-up to the research the MRN will aim to hold a roundtable in Scotland in the autumn of 2008, and it is hoped that some migrant workers will attend and share their experiences.

At the end of meeting the chair Mary Senior summed up the key points emerged from the discussion and reported that the MSP Marlyn Glen intended to lodge a motion in the Scottish Parliament to bring the issues facing migrant workers at the forefront of the political debate. Marlyn Glen’s motion was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on the 20th of June, 2008 and is available on the SP website. It has so far attracted 10 supporters from three different parties.

Further reading:

UNISON Scotland (2008) Minimum Standards Charter. A Voluntary Code of Practice on Employing Migrant and European Workers, and also a briefing paper

JRF/ London Metropolitan University (2008) Rhythms and Realities of Everyday Life: Improving our understanding of the relationship between recent immigration and social cohesion

MRN/Oxfam (2008) Report on the workshop “Supporting the employment rights of migrant workers”,


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