15.02.2008

Many of Europe's migrant workers face poor safety and health conditions

In a new report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
(EU-OSHA), the European Risk Observatory (ERO) provides an overview of the most
important issues relating to the occupational safety and health (OSH) of
migrant workers. Migration can bring career opportunities that can enhance
workers' general well-being, but it can also involve a degree of deskilling and
downward social mobility which can be associated with potential health and
safety problems.

"Migrant workers are often over-represented in high-risk sectors and in the
so-called 3D jobs - dirty, dangerous and demanding", says Jukka Takala,
Director of EU-OSHA, of which ERO is an integral part.

"Their work is often characterised by uncertainty, poor working conditions and
low wages. This is a serious concern all over Europe." The ERO literature
survey provides an overview of migration in the EU and outlines the most
significant OSH issues affecting migrant workers.

Labour market segregation

Existing evidence suggests a concentration of migrant workers in certain
sectors and occupations: on the one hand, they work in high skill professions
such as IT, on the other hand, many face poorer working conditions in sectors
such as agriculture and horticulture, construction, health care, households,
transport and the food sector.

The significant presence of migrant workers in these sectors may be explained
not only by labour shortages but also by language and legal barriers along with
more subtle forms of discrimination. And their presence is likely to be even
higher as official statistics refer only to legal permanent migration and not
temporary or undeclared workers, which may be particularly relevant in
agriculture.

One direct consequence of the labour market segregation is the
over-qualification of many migrant workers due to their employment in low-skill
occupations.

The impact of working conditions on migrants' health and safety
Labour market segmentation can have negative consequences in terms of lower
wages, longer working hours, higher occupational instability, more physically
demanding and monotonous work and more risks of accidents at work.

Migrant workers face additional health and safety risks due to their relatively
short period of work in the host countries and their limited knowledge of the
health and safety systems in place. They also report being subject to
harassment more frequently than their native counterparts. Coupled with more
unfavourable working conditions, higher rates of stress and burnout are one
visible consequence.

Undeclared work

It is estimated that in the nine largest economies of the former EU15 between
4.4 and 5.5 million immigrants are working in the "informal economy", although
precise data about undeclared employment is still not available. There are
serious health concerns for undeclared workers as they often do not have access
to occupational health care services and lack the legal protection mechanisms
for employees in dangerous occupations. The few studies carried out on safety
and health of undeclared workers suggest that they are under-reported in
statistics and that they are likely to endure very poor working conditions.

An ongoing concern

Safety and health of migrant workers is an ongoing concern in the EU.
Therefore, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work will continue to
monitor the state of knowledge on the topic and promote the exchange of
existing good practice information through its website.

More information


AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work