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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Protecting the Rights of Undocumented Workers

Report cover: Unprotected. Migrant workers in an irregular situation in Central Europe


The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and the Polish organisation Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej (Association for Legal Intervention) today called on the EU to prioritise the enforcement of the labour rights of undocumented migrant workers.

The ‘Directive providing for minimum standards on sanctions and measures against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals’ * came into force in 2009 as part of the EU’s migration policy to prevent irregular migration. Considering irregular employment a “pull factor” for migrants to irregularly stay in the EU, the Directive establishes sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers.

Part of the Directive (article 6) establishes several safeguards to protect the labour rights of undocumented workers, including a requirement for the employer to pay outstanding wages, and the possibility to issue residence permits of limited duration in cases of particularly exploitative employment conditions. However, five years later, the EU Commission’s monitoring of its implementation in member states indicates that there is little evidence of enforcement in cases of exploitation.

Jean Lambert, MEP for London, co-hosted the event, saying:

‘While governments have moved to punish those employing irregular migrants, it is disappointing to see that they have been less enthusiastic about ensuring the rights of those workers. Exploited workers often have no clear way to report their plight, systems to protect informants are weak and many are not helped to claim money owed to them by those employers who have benefitted from their labour. We need member states to protect workers, whatever their migration status.’

*Directive 2009/52/EC