Sanctions against employers of irregular migrants: ETUC deplores a toothless and counterproductive instrument

Brussels, 04/02/2009

ETUC welcomes the general principle of back payment of wages to migrant workers and the introduction of administrative and criminal sanctions against employers. These measures could play a dissuasive role on rogue businesses. But the directive will be difficult to enforce in practice because the agreed text fails to properly extend the liability to pay such sanctions to the whole subcontracting chain.

The text foresees that where the subcontractor employs irregular migrants, the main contractor can also be held liable to pay the sanctions. If, however, the subcontractor acts as an intermediary and subcontracts the work further down the chain, the main contractor will escape liability by arguing he did not know about the employment of irregular migrants. Even if the main contractor probably was very well aware of the use of irregular workers, having regard for instance to abnormally low prices, he cannot be sued.

As a result, the text is not only ineffective but also dangerous, since it will act as a further incentive for employers to use complex subcontracting chains and 'letter box' companies in order to evade their obligations and criminal sanctions.

Said ETUC Confederal Secretary Catelene Passchier: '{I am very disappointed that the big political groups in Parliament chose to rush into an unsatisfactory first reading deal with the Council instead of taking the time to assess the global merits and shortcomings of the proposal. The European institutions are sending yet another signal that the EU prioritises a repressive migration policy over clear policies against labour exploitation. Irregular workers are mostly employed by intermediaries and subcontractors; big employers don't burn their fingers by directly employing them.
We are very concerned that the text will only make already nice employers nicer, and reluctant to employ migrant workers, and nasty employers even nastier. It will drive vulnerable migrant workers further underground and not provide them with legal bridges out of illegality.
This ill-advised compromise must not prevent further debate at the European level on how to properly deal with the increasing use of undeclared work and irregular migrants in subcontracting chains}'.