Press release: Country studies reveal common labour rights violations and possibilities of enforcing migrant workers’ rights in the Visegrad countries.
"Work hard, work illegally (undeclared), (stay silent) keep quiet and precarious"
Ukrainians are well-known group of labour migrants in the countries of the Visegrad Group (V4). New unique research focusing on the patterns of Ukrainian migration to these countries unveils the unfavourable reality of the working conditions many Ukrainians are dealing with. Labour rights violations, precarious employment and working conditions notably in case of temporary and low-skilled workers are not exception in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Although migration patterns to the Visegrad Group (V4) countries are in general terms rather heterogeneous, the region is currently facing similar trends - significant increase in labour migration from Ukraine going hand in hand with labour rights violations, precarious employment and working conditions notably in case of temporary and low-skilled workers.
The project “Towards stronger transnational labour enforcement cooperation on labour migration” is based on qualitative research on emerging trends and employment patterns among Ukrainians working in low-skilled professions that was conducted in the V4 countries and Ukraine, results of which you can find on our website. Certain general trends are present in all five countries, such as low job security, an ongoing erosion in the quality of employment forms which results in the large-scale use of shady employment forms or undeclared work and last but not least high dependency on the employer. Vast majority of the interviewees have been working in labour intensive sectors such as hospitality, tourism, construction, manufacturing that are quite often dominated by informal employment relations. Also, most of them found a job through intermediaries. As confirmed by all five studies, this market has recently flourished in the region partly due to restrictive migration policies. Another common problem for the region is a lack of system of protecting of undocumented migrants who might actually be willing to come forward and speak out against the employers who exploited them. By doing so, they would face fines, deportation and a ban on entry.
Although the research was in each country conducted with a focus on different employment sector, the cases of violations of labour rights of Ukrainian migrant workers bear striking resemblance. Ukrainians have to face most frequently violations connected to their wages - the wages are not paid, the pay is below the minimum wage or it is paid with delay. Another violations include absence of labour contract or provision of contract in language that the worker does not understand. “I signed it without reading or knowing what was in it. I am young. I was in a hurry. Let’s say I trusted them. Later on, they brought us a translation in Ukrainian, already here at the plant, when we were already working. That happened in a month or two. We then signed then new contracts in Ukrainian” says one of the respondents working in Hungary. In some cases, labour contract is signed and even translated to workers native language, but the type of the contract is not adequate. For example, the employer might require the worker to work on trade licence, so that he does not have to pay social and health insurance but the worker in reality caries out dependent work. Very pressing is the issue of safety at the workplace. The workers are not given the mandatory OSHA training and appropriate conditions in connection with safety at the workplace are not secured. “We didn’t have neither protective gear including a mask nor helmets, only gloves were available”, says Pavel from Ukraine who’s been working on construction. Apart from these above mentioned violations, unpaid overtime, no social security and no breaks even during extensive working hours are often encountered by the workers.
The phenomenon specific for the Czech Republic is the usage of the the mechanism of posting workers whereas it is rather marginal for other V4 labour markets. This means that the Ukrainian labourers work illegally and their fragile position is being exploited by the employers. Workers with Polish visas are thus reluctant to get help in the unfavourable situations they face. “You are afraid to contact someone because you have a Polish visa. And those people [Czech employers] are simply abusing this…” says Vasyl who works on construction in the Czech republic.
How can this situation be remedied? Despite divergences in legislative framework and institutional setting concerning labour migration in V4 countries, all studies suggest that similar actions are needed for effective labour rights enforcement.
The remedies should arise from all stakeholders involved in the issue - the state and its institutions, employers, other social partners and workers themselves.
States should consider simplifying the bureaucratic procedures connected to the issuing of work and residence permits to foreigners. Such bureaucratization limits the mobility of the labour force on the labour market, which brings losses to the economy.
As for the employers, improving corporate ethics among businesses would be a positive basis for subsequent changes: “raising awareness of the economic elites about their responsibility for the workers they hire” (CSR ideas). Since intermediaries have become the main employer of migrants and provider of labour force, there is a need to continue thorough monitoring of their practices, increase the accountability requirements of end-users and private entities involved in the labour migration process from Ukraine.
Special attention should be paid to the accommodation of the workers. In particular, it should not reinforce the exclusion and ghettoisation. All actors should cooperate in this matter (municipalities, employers, trade unions, NGOs).
Special attention should be paid to the workers themselves. The key are awareness raising and informative campaigns in all countries involved (sending and receiving). Creation of Help points at visa centres or consulates, phone or online hotlines could make the information about their labour rights more accessible.
In the case of Ukraine, a thorough transformation of the principles, practices and institutions related to labour protection is needed. Also, regarding the labour law reform, there is an urgent need to implement reforms that will bring labour relations in Ukraine “out of the shadow”. However, this should not be done at the expense of workers’ rights. Various social actors should be thus involved in wide public discussion of the reforms (trade unions, NGOs).
Importantly, all of the above mentioned points need to combine into one comprehensive solution. Creation of regular opportunities for entering labour markets accompanied by informative campaigns about labour rights enforcement and access to justice for migrant workers can improve their employment and working conditions as well as accountability of employers.