Migrant workers need more support, warn unions

Unions have urged employers and the Scottish Government to do more for migrant workers ahead of Brexit.

Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith wants improvements to migrants’ working lives in Scotland.

Among changes called for are increased wages for all workers in sectors reliant on migrant labour, such as care, hospitality and agriculture.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week wrote an open letter to EU citizens in Scotland, stressing they are “welcome here” and play a “crucial role” in Scotland’s economy.

She said her Government will offer support to those who want to stay, and urged them to apply for settled status.

Mr Smith said: “As the STUC’s 122nd annual congress begins this week, we are calling for employers and Scottish Government to step up for migrant workers with the impact of Brexit and a tightening Labour market.

“The first step would be for employers to recognise unions and work with us to make the workplace a genuinely welcoming and positive place for all employees.”

He said unions have worked to ensure migrant and non-migrant workers are rostered together and offered free language courses.

STUC General Secretary
Grahame Smith said migrant workers should be given more support ahead of Brexit (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Smith added: “Much has been done to promote Scotland as a ‘welcoming’ country for migrants, but we need to do more to improve their working lives here.

“As the labour market tightens and Brexit continues to dominate headlines, wages need to be higher in care, hospitality and agriculture, benefiting native and migrant workers alike.

“The STUC has collected testimonies from a range of migrant workers and found that while there is consensus on the need to attract migrants to Scotland, employers need to step up for migrant staff facing hostility in the workplace and uncertainty ahead of Brexit.”

Among the workers the STUC spoke to is a Greek woman who has worked in Scotland since 2017.

The care assistant said: “I think sometimes people were a bit aggressive because I was a foreigner.

“They told me they don’t like Polish people. They ask where I’m from and how long I’m here for and if I claim benefits.

“It’s always very patronising.”

Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills Jamie Hepburn said: “Scotland benefits significantly from the contribution of people who choose to live, work and study here, and they are crucial to Scotland’s future economic growth.

“That’s why we have launched a campaign and support package to encourage EU citizens to stay here. However the UK Government’s approach to Brexit and migration in general threatens Scotland’s future prosperity.

“The evidence is clear – current UK Government immigration policy is harmful to Scotland’s interests.

“We need a more flexible approach to migration with more powers for Scottish Ministers, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to develop tailored sustainable solutions for Scotland which meet the needs of all sectors of our economy, public services and communities, including heath and social care, construction, agriculture, hospitality and tourism.”

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