Legal Seminar Series

How to ensure labour rights of undocumented migrant workers in a changing economy

PICUM, ETUC and the ILO Office for the European Union and the Benelux countries are organising a series of legal seminars on the Labour rights of undocumented migrant workers in a changing economy. This series aims to equip practitioners and advocates with the tools to strengthen their defence of the rights of undocumented workers.
This seminar series will take place on 6,13, 20 and 27 October 2021.

The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Office for the European Union and the Benelux countries are organising a series of four online legal seminars to on Labour rights of undocumented migrant workers.  

This seminar series aims to equip practitioners, legal professionals and advocates of migrants’ rights and workers’ rights with the tools to strengthen their defence of the rights of undocumented workers and to use international and EU laws to claim undocumented migrants’ work-related rights.

Undocumented workers have rights and protections under a variety of international, regional and national legal frameworks – as human beings, as workers and employees, and when victims of crime.  

This includes rights under several EU laws, including, for example, the right to working conditions which respect health, safety and dignity, with limited working hours and rest periods (Charter of Fundamental Rights), the right to unpaid wages and effective complaints mechanisms (Employers Sanctions Directive) and the right for a relevant financial guarantee institution to take over (with limited liability) outstanding claims in the case of employer insolvency (the Employers’ Insolvency Directive), as well as the rights, supports and services for victims, when victims of crime, including trafficking in human beings (Victim’s Directive, Anti-Trafficking Directive).

However, undocumented workers often face significant challenges in exercising their rights in the workplace, whether through criminal courts, civil courts and employment tribunals, or complaints mechanisms of inspection authorities. This hampers efforts to ensure decent working conditions, to prevent and provide a remedy for exploitation, and ultimately to reform sectors in which exploitation of workers and undeclared work are widespread.

Critical barriers include, among others, fears and risks of immigration enforcement and retaliation from fraudulent employers, difficulties to provide sufficient proof, as well as inadequate access to information about their rights, legal advice and representation. Some workers face additional barriers because of gaps in labour law protections and accountability mechanisms for particular types of work or employment relationships, for example, when working as au pairs, domestic worker or sex worker, or when employed through recruitment agencies or online platforms.

In these series, legal professionals and advocates of migrants’ rights and workers’ rights will learn from different national contexts and strategies to strengthen protection of undocumented workers’ labour rights in law and in practice.

They will learn to critically and strategically assess the use of criminal law remedies for undocumented workers and to explore the various legal frameworks that establish accountability and liability of employers, including in situations of sub-contracting and recruitment chains.

The main language of the seminars will be English, but French and Spanish interpretation will be available for all sessions.

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Wednesday 6 October (14:00 – 16:00)

Undocumented workers’ rights as “workers” or “employees” under EU law and international law

Moderator: Lieve Verboven, Director, International Labour Organization’s Office for the EU and the Benelux countries
  • Opening, Michele LeVoy, Director, PICUM
  • Overview: world of work and migrant workers. Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary, ETUC
  • EU law on working conditions and addressing changing employment relationships and situations. Adam Pokorny, Head of Unit, Labour Law, DG Employment
  • Case law on the definition of the employment relationship and application of EU employment law. Vera Pavlou, Lecturer in Labour Law, School of Law, University of Glasgow
  • International labour standards and the definition of employee.
    Katerine Landuyt, Specialist in Labour Migration, International Labour Organization
  • Respondent: Peers, Professor, School of Law, University of Essex (TBC)

Wednesday 13 October (14:00 – 16:00)

Undocumented workers’ rights: in law and practice: National case studies

Moderator: Lucila Granada, CEO, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
  • Opening, Michele LeVoy, Director, PICUM
  • France: Explicit labour rights and their implementation by the Prud’hommes, Gerard Ré, Secrétaire Général de L’UD CGT 06, Confédération Générale du Travail (France)
  • Belgium: Implementing the Employers’ Sanctions Directive provisions on minimum wages and effective complaints mechanisms, Jan Knockaert, Coordinator, FAIRWORK Belgium
  • Austria: How UNDOK supports undocumented workers, Susanne Kimm, Legal Counsellor, UNDOK
  • USA: Protecting Workers from Retaliation: Some Perspectives from the United States, Laura Huizar, Immigrant Worker Justice Program Director, National Employment Law Project (NELP)
  • Respondent: Laurie Berg, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Wednesday 20 October (14:00 – 16:00)

Criminal law approaches to exploitative working conditions

Moderator: TBD
  • Opening, Michele LeVoy, Director, PICUM
  • Overview of EU law: Victims’ Directive, Anti-Trafficking Directive, Employers’ Sanctions Directive Ludovica Banfi, Project Manager, Social Research, Research and Data Unit, EU Agency for Fundamental Rights Agency
  • Irregular or precarious status and the risk of deportation as factors contributing to forced labour under Article 4 of the European Court of Human Rights, Conny Rijken, Professor in Human Trafficking and Globalization, Department of Criminal Law, Tilburg Law School
  • The protection of labour rights in agricultural sector after Manolada cases and the role of Labour Inspectorate in the application of the Employers' Sanctions Directive, Konstantina Michopoulou, Attorney at Supreme Courts (Athens Bar Association), Τeaching Associate on Human Rights (Hellenic Open University)
  • Penal legal frameworks and policing of migrants, Alpa Parmar, Associate Director, Border Criminologies (TBD)
  • Respondent: Julia O’Connell Davidson, Professor in Social Research, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Week 4: Wednesday 27 October (14:00 – 16:00)

Business and employer responsibility and accountability

Moderator: Giulia Laganà, Senior Analyst, Migration and labour rights, Open Society European Policy Institute
  • Opening Michele LeVoy, Director, PICUM
  • Health and safety: How far does international and EU law address prevention and post-incidence? Tim Tregenza, Network Managaer, European Occupational Safety and Health Agency (EU-OSHA)*
  • Employer accountability for labour accidents and state compensation: The example of Belgium, Federis (TBD)
  • Joint and several liability in subcontracting chains, Silvia Borelli, Labour Law Associate Professor, University of Ferrara
  • Implementing due diligence and meaningful complaints mechanisms through supply chains, Emily Young, Ethical Trade Partner,*
  • Respondent: TBD