Investigation Finds Migrant Workers Face Discrimination

Lindsay Fergus, Belfast Telegraph, June 15, 2010

A formal investigation into the role of the recruitment sector in the employment of migrant workers in Northern Ireland has found non-nationals are being discriminated against.

The findings are revealed today in an Equality Commission for Northern Ireland report entitled ‘The Role of the Recruitment Sector in the Employment of Migrant Workers’.

During its 21 months of research, the commission spoke to migrant workers, the majority of which were eastern European nationals, recruitment agencies across Northern Ireland and employers.

Those findings include:

* Participants encountered barriers to equality of opportunity for those using the recruitment sector.

* Irregularity of work.

* Large amounts of money being paid in their native countries to find work which was not as expected.

* Poor employment practices.

* Securing predominantly low paid work.

* Difficulties in having qualifications gained outside the UK recognised by employers.

Other findings revealed more than half of migrant workers had used the recruitment sector, and recruitment agencies reported a high proportion of migrant workers registered with them, in some cases more than 80%.

Of those participants using the recruitment sector, just 27% had gone on to find direct employment with 52% remaining as agency workers and 21% no longer working. And 60% of participants reported experiencing difficulties with pay.

One migrant worker said: “We paid €600 to the agency (in their own country) and then £500 to a contact in the UK who said he would get us work documents. We never got these. We knew only we would be doing unskilled work in Belfast. We work on a farm and the job is not what we expected.”

Another recounted: “We have trouble getting holiday pay from the agency. They don’t want to speak to us about it. They said that if we don’t like it we could always go back home.”

Bob Collins, chief commissioner said: “The investigation found areas of good practice in the recruitment sector, on the part of government agencies and among community support groups.

“The investigation also found that while there is a considerable body of legislation governing the recruitment sector, not all recruitment agencies work within its terms, and barriers to equality of opportunity do exist for those who use their services.

“One of the key challenges for Northern Ireland is to ensure that those who come to live here are treated with dignity and fairness, that their contribution to the economy and to wider society are recognised and that they are accorded the same respect and value that people from Northern Ireland expect when they go abroad to live and work.”

He added: “The Commission will take appropriate action to address the issues highlighted and to ensure that its recommendations are highlighted.”

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