Rights for the undocumented
28 May 2006 – The undocumented are in
a difficult position, but they are not entirely without rights.
Last Wednesday, the booklet Basic Rights for the Undocumented was
presented in Akantes. FNV Bondgenoten, the largest trade union in
the Netherlands, intends to stand up for undocumented workers, national
board member Anja Jongbloed said.
“It seems almost a contradiction in terms to speak of the
rights of the undocumented”, Rian Ederveen said. Ederveen
is a representative of LOS, a national expertise centre on the undocumented.
“For many people, the fact that they are illegal residents
implies automatically that they have no rights”.
“However, that attitude often changes when people personally
get to know undocumented persons. For example, when it regards a
coworker, or a friend of your child”.
While the legal position of the undocumented is weak, they do have
certain rights, for example regarding their position as a tenant
or as an employee. They are also entitled to urgent medical care.
For those who provide services to the undocumented, LOS, in collaboration
with the Illegal Workers Support Committee (Okia) and the Searchweb
Foundation, compiled a booklet that describes which rights the undocumented
have. In addition, a campaign will be started to put the issue higher
on the agenda.
Jongbloed explained that the position of labour migrants is a difficult
issue within the trade union movement. “Many members are afraid
that their jobs are at stake. So why is the trade union going to
help these people, they ask themselves”.
As part of the ‘Equal work, equal pay’ campaign, this
issue was extensively debated with union members. “In this
way, we were able to create a better understanding among our members
of the position of immigrants”.
The campaign aims to fight exploitation of for example Polish immigrants.
The idea behind it is that the exploitation of one group will ultimately
harm all workers.
In the future, the campaign should also address the situation of
undocumented workers, Jongbloed said. She also wants the union to
provide these workers with information about their rights, for example
at local trade union centres.
Within the FNV, Jongbloed is going to promote the point of view
that the Labour Inspection must not be involved with fighting illegal
work and illegal residence. Workers who have complaints about labour
conditions must be able to call in the Inspection without fear of
being deported as a result.
Why this is important, was shown by an example provided by Okia’s
Marijke Bijl. An undocumented worker who had to work under high
pressure had an accident with a machine for wrapping cucumbers,
which cost him a finger.
Bijl contacted three regional offices of the Labour Inspection
to ask how they might help this man. They were interested in investigating
the case, but then the man would have to report to the Inspection.
Not only would he run the risk of being deported himself, he would
also endanger his coworkers who were still working at the site.
The Labour Inspectors understood that this was a problem, but were
unable to think of a solution.
During the well-attended meeting, there were further presentations
by the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers and the Legal Advice
Centre (Juridisch Loket).
LOS, Okia and Searchweb will distribute the basic rights booklet
among support groups, immigrants’ organisations and other
organisations. Further, they will start a campaign to investigate
what problems arise when the undocumented want to exercise their