The Chairperson welcomed Mr. K. Doherty from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to the meeting.
Mr. K. Doherty thanked the Committee for inviting representation from ICTU to discuss the impact of the Immigration and Social Security Act 2020, which sought to end the right of free movement and removed the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK, and have protection at work and equal treatment.
He reported that the UK government plans for immigration post-Brexit, would introduce a new form of exploitation and encourage undercutting by removing EU citizens right to work and live in the UK without the requirement of a visa and that its proposals would also increase discrimination, lead to further strains on public services and increase shortages in vital jobs.
He highlighted that the immigration act did not set out what the future UK system would look like, and instead, the act gave Ministers the powers to modify primary or secondary legislation through delegated legislation.
He pointed out to Members that in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic it had never been clearer the vital role that migrant workers played as healthcare workers, carers, food producers, transport workers and other frontline workers and that EU nationals in Northern Ireland were mostly employed in lower paid, lower skilled occupations and that nine percent of healthcare workers in Northern Ireland were from outside the UK.
He referred to the EU Settlement Scheme and how an EU citizen who wished to remain the UK beyond 31st December, 2020, and their family members, would have to apply for either settled status or pre-settled status, and those who had not applied within the limited timeframe would be considered undocumented and subject to the hostile environment experienced by non-EU nationals. He added that these undocumented individuals would be vulnerable to criminalisation, removal and deportation.
He further added that ICTU had concerns that the outsourcing of immigration enforcement to businesses, landlords and its structure targets ethnic minorities and those who look or sound foreign and that those without documentation would be denied access to healthcare, housing, employment benefits and bank accounts.
He reported that EU citizens would have to rely on an untested, online database as the only means of evidence of status and rights and that it was unacceptable for the UK government to use EU citizens as an experiment for the digital immigration system and that the introduction of a permit system for EU workers would not be open to lower skilled paid jobs, the types of jobs that migrant workers in Northern Ireland currently occupied.
He stated that ICTU had concerns over the introduction of low skilled job visas for the agricultural sector and youth mobility visas which would be short term and make it easier for employers to use migrant workers to undercut other workers terms and conditions and encourage exploitation.
In response to a question from a Member regarding a conservative government and workers’ rights post-Brexit, Mr. K. Doherty stated that, as employment rights were a devolved matter, ICTU would be calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to commit to retaining the existing employment rights in Northern Ireland and that any new workers’ rights introduced in EU countries, would also be adopted in Northern Ireland.
Following further discussion, the Committee thanked Mr. K. Doherty for his presentation and he retired from the meeting.