Paper welcomed by STUC and Unison Scotland
DEVOLVING immigration and employment law together can give Scotland the opportunity to create a workers rights-based approach to immigration post-Brexit that benefits all workers.
The idea is one of a series of proposals in ‘A Scottish Approach to Immigration Post-Brexit’, authored by researcher Mark Butterly, which can be accessed in full here.
The paper proposes a devolved immigration policy for Scotland that would be designed to meet the country’s specific demographic challenges while strengthening universal rights for all workers.
“By combining together the devolution of immigration and employment law, a coherent universal-rights based approach can be developed which all workers’ benefit from.” Ben Wray
The five key proposals for a devolved immigration policy are:
- Retaining Freedom of Movement: Either through the EEA or otherwise, Scotland should seek as far as possible to retain Freedom of Movement and all the rights that come with it for EEA workers.
- Expanded workers’ rights within Freedom of Movement: To tackle the exploitation of migrant workers and any undercutting of domestic workers’ wages and conditions, an expanded workers’ rights programme within Freedom of Movement should be pursued which would include sectoral bargaining powers for trade unions, a new scheme for sector inspection to ensure regulations are being met (especially in places with high levels of low-skill migrant workers) and heavier fines & penalties for companies found to be exploiting migrant workers.
- Devolution of Employment Law: To deliver expanded workers’ rights the devolution of employment law should accompany immigration powers to create a coherent system for all workers that strengthens labour regulations and rights.
- Expanding universal rights to non EEA migrants: Devolution of immigration policy would also allow the Scottish Government to reform its approach to non EEA migrants, which is a demographic in Scotland roughly half the size of the EU national population and in many cases with significantly less rights. Changes in this area could include the mainstreaming of universal rights for EU workers to non-EEA workers; the creation of anonymous procedures for working condition complaints that have no bearing on a person’s immigration status; and amnesties for undocumented migrants with routes to legalising work.
- A just system for asylum seekers and refugees: While this is a relatively small constituency of migrants, their treatment under the UK system has been criticised by human rights organisations and their skills are wasted due to not being allowed to work during the asylum process. As a minimum, the right to work for asylum seekers should be introduced as well as access to the mainstream benefits system. Detention centres should be closed.
Butterly concludes: “The point of a separate or devolved immigration policy for Scotland should not be to recreate a New Labour-style approach which treats all criticism of globalisation as naïve and backwards. Rather, what is needed is a fundamental remodelling of how all people live in Scotland, irrespective of where they were born. Reforms to the current immigration system should be advocated for in a multi-layered way, one that radically reforms domestic workers’ rights, while simultaneously recasting and refocusing rights for all migrants irrespective of birth place.”
Commenting on the paper, UNISON Scotland head of policy Dave Watson said:
“This is a useful contribution to the debate on a new approach to immigration in Scotland. Immigration has had a positive impact on the Scottish economy and society, and EU nationals play an important role in delivering public services. The simple fact is you’re more likely to be treated by a migrant than you are to be behind one on an NHS Scotland waiting list.
“UNISON has long argued that Scotland’s demographics are not reflected in UK immigration policy and there are devolution models that work elsewhere in the world that should be adopted here.”
“Immigration has had a positive impact on the Scottish economy and society, and EU nationals play an important role in delivering public services. The simple fact is you’re more likely to be treated by a migrant than you are to be behind one on an NHS Scotland waiting list.” Dave Watson
Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the STUC, said of the report:
“The STUC firmly believes in the freedom of movement for people and has been at the forefront of advocating for migrant workers' rights and protections in Scotland. As well as enriching its culture, migration is vital for Scotland's demographics with many of our workplaces - from fruit picking farms and meat factories, to hospitals and universities - staffed by migrant workers who contribute a great deal to our society, culture, neighbourhoods, and economy.
“The STUC will continue to argue against further restricting freedom of movement as it would seriously hinder Scottish production and growth over the coming years. It is current STUC policy that the UK immigration system should be reformed to allow for discreet migration policies in Scotland. This should be the case irrespective of the final Brexit arrangements.
“The STUC welcomes Common Weal's contribution to this important debate and would be happy to work with them and other organisations to develop a more effective way in which migration policy for Scotland can be directed by the Scottish Parliament.”
Ben Wray, head of policy at Common Weal, said: “This paper proposes an approach to immigration which simultaneously would meet Scotland’s enormous demographic challenge – with the working age population projected to rise 28 times slower than pensioners – while at the same time addressing the real roots of fears about a race to the bottom between migrant and domestic workers: exploitation by employers who take advantage of weak workers’ and trade union rights to push down wages.
“By combining together the devolution of immigration and employment law, a coherent universal-rights based approach can be developed which all workers’ benefit from. This is an approach to immigration that neither buys into the myths about migrant workers destroying employment and public services nor ignores the genuine concerns people have about their jobs and standard of living.”