Immigration : Eu to Penalise Employers of Illegal Immigrants

Europe-East, February 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

Immigration : Eu to Penalise Employers of Illegal Immigrants


Over the past two years, the European Union has considerably stepped up its arsenal of instruments to combat illegal immigration. In the wake of the very controversial directive on the return of illegal immigrants to their country of origin (Return Directive), it is now preparing to take on common rules to penalise the employers of undocumented workers, including penal sanctions in the most serious cases. Meeting in Strasbourg, the European Parliament is due to adopt, on 4 February, a compromise worked out with the Council on a proposal for a directive to combat illegal immigration by tackling bad' bosses.

Rapporteur Claudio Fava (PES, Italy) had to bring all his negotiating skills into play to reverse the proposal's logic of punitive action. Originally, the idea was to fight against the illegal immigrants alone, but now the aim is also to protect them, he said during the EP debate on the eve of the vote. "Otherwise, they were being punished twice, first by being exploited and second by being sent back home," he observed.

PROTECTION OF MINORS

It is especially on the case of children employed illegally that the EP has managed to obtain a more socially progressive approach. The member states would grant temporary residence permits to such children and to adults subjected to particularly abusive working conditions (human trafficking) who cooperate on the criminal prosecution against their employer. Fava had hoped to expand such a right to all immigrants, but had to take the Return Directive into account.

Employers acting illegally will be subject to financial and administrative penalties: fines, obligation to pay back wages at legal conditions and up to five years' ineligibility for public tenders in their home country and at EU level. Criminal sanctions will even be imposed on repeat offenders, employers of minors or of large numbers of illegal immigrants, those imposing slave-like conditions or employers knowingly employing victims of human trafficking.

The EP also succeeded in "introducing the definition of pay owed to illegal workers, under the pay conditions of the country of origin," said Fava. He also welcomed the fact that unions will be able to defend these workers without being prosecuted for aiding illegal immigrants.

SUBCONTRACTING

Although employers approve of the objective, which they see as slowing the "unfair competition" of undeclared labour, they reject the concept of subsidiary liability. Indeed, the Council and EP have also agreed to hold responsible employers who subcontract work to temporary employment agencies that employ illegal residents. They will even be held wholly liable if it can be demonstrated that they were aware of the unlawful practices of the subcontractor. This was a necessity, argues the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), because "most illegal workers are not hired directly by the big employers, but by temporary agencies or subcontractors". …

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