Ethics in employment. The case of economic migrants

AutorProfessor Jo Carby-Hall
Cargo del AutorDirector of international Legal research. Centre for Legislative studies. University of Hull
Páginas105 - 148

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I Introduction

It would be appropriate to introduce this chapter by quoting the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers#x2019; Union, Mr. Tony Woodley who stated that1 #x201c;#x2026; It has become the case in the United Kingdom that too many employers seem intent on denying workers from Poland and elsewhere their rights and indeed systematically exploit them in order to lower business costs#x2026; The combination of unscrupulous behaviour by some employers and the lack of enforcement of the law by the appropriate UK authorities mean the abuse and mistreatment of these workers#x2026; is widespread yet undetected and certainly unpunished#x201d;. Mr. Woodley then went on to say: #x201c;Those who seek to profit from workers#x2019; misery are quick to join forces across nations and continents to meet their objectives. Today, I am calling on you and the UK government to lead the way and do the same #x2013;join forces, work together and combat these criminals#x201d;.

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What is being said by Mr. Woodley treats an ethical issue relating to economic migrants. ethics enjoy a long pedigree! the fate of the economic migrant revolves round the notion of ethics. The Middle English word #x201c;ethic#x201d; or #x201c;éthique#x201d; in old French or #x201c;ethicus#x201d; in Latin or originally the Greek #x201c;ethikos#x201d; may be described variously. The notion of #x201c;ethic#x201d; means: relating to morals in human conduct2 or treating of moral questions3, or the science of morals4 or again the rules of conduct recognised in human life, or the science of human duty which may include, besides ethics proper, the science of civil, political or international law5.

Ethicists have long debated as to whether moral action can be justified or demonstrated to be rational, and discussion has also centred on whether such a matter as objective moral truths exists. In western philosophy, schools of ethics may be divided into three kinds. One school, based on Aristotle#x2019;s6 work holds that virtues such as justice, charity and generosity are dispositions to act in ways that are of benefit both to the person possessing these and that person#x2019;s society. the kant school considers the concept of duty central to morality. Thus humans are bound, from a knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical imperative to respect other rational beings. The utilitarian school considers that the guiding principle of conduct should be the greatest happiness or benefit of the greatest number.

From the poetry of Lord Byron, a system of ethics was drawn which #x201c;#x2026; compounded of misanthropy and voluptuousness, a system in which the two great commandments were, to hate your neighbour, and to love your neighbour#x2019;s wife#x201d;7. We live in a world which has achieved brilliance without wisdom, and power without conscience8. All these definitions, sayings and notions are relevant to the discussion which will take place in this chapter and epitomise the attitudes in the ethics of employment practised by unscrupulous employers and unscrupulous recruiting and employment agencies who are in the process of exploiting economic migrants who, because of their weak status9, are easy targetsPage 107for exploitation. It is thus proposed to analyse, through research carried out by the author, how economic migrants from the A8 countries10 as well as from overseas11 are often treated in the united kingdom.

The reader will readily notice that the definitions and notions mentioned above, some of which date back to five hundred years ago and well to the third century B.C., are relevant to the modern world of employment; for we can still apply the science of morals, the rules of conduct recognised in human life, the science of human duty which could include civil, political and international law and the treating of moral questions in employment. Nor is Lord Byron#x2019;s system of ethics an out -dated one. Misanthropy exists in the world of employment when the recruiting / employment agency or employer, through their behaviour, show #x201c;hate#x201d; towards the worker, such as #x201c;hate crime#x201d; or abuses, illtreats or exploits him/her. As for loving #x201c;#x2026;your neighbour#x2019;s wife#x201d; that is immoral! Neither is it laudable to have brilliance without wisdom and power without conscience! That may not be unethical but it could prove disastrous!

An analysis will be made presently on the exploitation and abuse of the economic migrants. it consists of numerous species of unethical practices.

As the area of exploitation and abuse covers wide ranging fields, it is proposed, for the sake of clarity, to divide these into sections, each treating a specific field. These will include (a) health and safety at work; (b) working and living conditions; (c) intimidation; (d) wages; (e) hate crime and (f) criminal activities. Before doing so, it is important to emphasise four matters.

First, that almost all the workers interviewed by this author were reluctant to speak openly about abuses meted at them by their employers or by the employment agency which recruited and/or employed them. The reason for that, appeared to be their fear of recrimination, should the employer or agency find out that they had been talking of their working conditions. Some workers were, however, willing to talk, subject to their remaining anonymous. For the purpose of confidentiality, this research proposes to respect their wishes by mentioning no names.

Second, that economic migrants from the A8 Member States and overseas are not employed in a limited number of industries or services, they are scatteredPage 108in large sectors of the British economy which cover, inter alia, printing, food processing, the construction industry, transport, hospitals, agricultural and horticultural work, contract office cleaning, domestic work, care homes, the hotel industry, shell picking, etc#x2026;

Third, the plight of some economic migrant workers working in the united kingdom is so serious that it qualifies under the international legal definition of forced labour. #x201c;Forced Labour#x201d; is defined by the International Labour Organisation, inter alia, as occurring whenever workers are subjected to physical threats, restriction of movement and confinement to the workplace or to a limited area, the withholding of wages or excessive reduction of wages which violate previously made arrangements and debt bondage in situations where the worker works to pay off a debt or loan and is not paid for services rendered. This occurs when food and accommodation are provided by the employer at inflated prices and when the worker is unable to escape the debt12. An independent report published by the Trades Union Congress in London says: #x201c;Forced labour and migration to the U.K. reveal abuse, including long hours, pay below the minimum wage and dangerous working conditions in sectors including construction, hospitality, agriculture, food processing, horticulture, contract cleaning, nursing and care homes. employers and agencies who break the law are rarely prosecuted or even inspected by the authorities#x2026;#x201d; The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber said: #x201c;#x2026;people with every legal right to hold a job can#x2026; be so badly exploited that they must count as #x201c;forced labour#x201d;#x2026;#x201d;

Fourth, although this research attempts to make clear divisions, each identifying a particular abuse, it will be found that abuses, other than the particular ones under discussion, feature too. the reason for this is that some cases contain multifaced aspects which relate to the main abuse in question. To attempt to separate the related abuses in such multifaced cases would detract from the significance and completeness of the case.

II Exploitation and abuse

It is now proposed to treat, under different headings, areas in which exploitation and abuse have occurred or are occurring.

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1. Health and Safety at Work

Under the British Health and Safety at Work Act, 197413 and european legislation14, the employer has a duty to provide all employees with the necessary safety training to enable them to carry out their work without risk of physical or mental injury and illness. In spite of that duty, there have been fatalities amongst migrant workers employed in the United Kingdom. Workplaces deaths and serious injuries have increased since the A8 countries joined the european union in May 2004. One of the reasons is the language barrier which means that the safety messages are not being effectively communicated to migrant workers15. A basic grasp of the English language can mean the difference between life and death for the migrant worker.

A report commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive entitled #x201c;Migrant Workers in England and Wales #x2013; An Assessment of migrant worker health and safety risks#x201d;16 is most revealing. The report draws on interviews with 200 migrant workers in five regions of England and Wales. Whereas the authors of the report state that there #x201c;#x2026;is no correct method of identifying whether there are any specific health and safety risks for migrant workers#x2026;#x201d; they believe that migrant workers: #x201c;#x2026;are more likely to be working in occupations where there are existing health and safety concerns and that it is their status as new workers that may place them at added risk#x2026;.#x201d;17. The authors thus believe that their status as migrant workers puts them at...

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