ERO: Many of Europe’s Migrant Workers Face Poor Safety, Health Condition

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 of migrant workers. Migration can bring career opportunities that can enhance workers’ general well-being, but it also can 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. "Their work is often characterized 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.

Labor Market Segregation

Existing evidence suggests a concentration of migrant workers in certain sectors and occupations. While they may work in high skill professions such as IT, many others 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 labor 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 labor market segregation is the over-qualification of many migrant workers due to their employment in low-skill occupations.

Impact on 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 unfavorable 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.

Serious health concerns are connected with 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.

Safety and health of migrant workers is an ongoing concern in the EU. Therefore, EU-OSHA will continue to monitor the state of knowledge on the topic and promote the exchange of existing good practice information through its Web site, http://osha.europa.eu/en.

TAGS: Health Safety
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