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Organisation for Undocumented Workers
»  Improving workplace rights
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Improving workplace rights

EU Directive on Sanctions for Employers of 'Illegally Staying Third-Country Nationals'.

Irregular migration is high on the EU agenda. More specifically, a strong policy to combat irregular migration is a priority for most EU-countries and the European Commission. Irregular labour is thereby seen as one of the catalysts for irregular migration, both on the supply as on the demand side (people migrating for economic reasons and employers looking for a cheap and flexible labour force). Therefore, the fight against ‘illegal’ labour is seen as one of the pillars of the fight against irregular migration.

This fight is almost exclusively focussed on the repressive aspect. Inspection services need to be reinforced, labour inspection and migration control go hand in hand, and employer sanctions are increased.

Undocumented workers are highly vulnerable to abuse by their employers. International treaties (ILO and UN Conventions) and national legislation in many EU-countries do grant considerable workers’ rights to all workers, regardless of their legal status. However, in practice little is done by the authorities to enforce undocumented workers’ rights. Quite on the contrary, the link with migration control often results in workers getting harsher punishments than employers (deportation and deprivation of outstanding rights e.g. back wages).

Workers’ rights are human rights, therefore are to be enjoyed by everyone regardless of legal status or origin. It is the duty of every authority to see to it that these rights are protected, especially when repressive measures towards irregular employment are taken.

A new EU directive on employer sanctions that has been adopted in 2009 (2009/52/EC) does contain some provisions for the protection of undocumented workers’ rights, thanks to the recommendations that have been made by amongst others PICUM, the Platforum for International Cooperation for Undocumented Workers, of which OR.C.A. is a member ( But it is stated explicitly that the first goal of the directive is migration control and not so much regulating matters of Social Law. This is a bad sign in itself about the way undocumented workers are viewed: as undocumented migrants in the first place, a harmful reality for society, and only in the second place as workers with rights.

Within the network of PICUM , OR.C.A. plays a leading role in a working group on labour issues. This working group aims to put the expertise of civil society from the different EU countries together to follow up closely on this directive on employer sanctions. We want to make sure that undocumented workers’ rights will be a priority, both in the directive itself as in the different translations into national legislation.

Key documents