Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention -Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention

Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention

The ILO Convention makes it clear that workers' and employers' organisations have the right to enjoy adequate protection against any acts of interference by each other or each other's agents or members in their establishment, functioning or administration. In particular, acts which are designed to promote the establishment of workers' organisations under the domination of employers or employers' organisations, or to support workers' organisations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such organisations under the control of employers or employers' organisations, shall be deemed to constitute acts of interference. Trade unions are able to negotiate with employers on working conditions only if they have a recognition agreement in place. This process places them under the control of employers. While workers, without distinction whatsoever, have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation, and workers' organisations, defined in the convention, as "any organisation of workers or of employers for furthering and defending the interests of workers or of employers" enjoy the right to Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, Migrants At Work, an organisation led by lived experience promoting migrant workers' rights, do not enjoy the rights above because domestic trade union and labour laws prevent us from doing so. 

In the meantime, those who are trafficked for labour exploitation have no one to challenge employers in the workplace and labour migration policies because "for employers' and workers' organisations, trafficking for labour exploitation is unlikely to be a top priority[t] (1)". Trade Unions have the power to advocate for our rights but are unwilling to do so. When discussing the trade union movement's responses to migration and social inclusion, it is unusual to have included any discussion on how it approaches the State and national employers' associations on these subjects. Most studies tend to focus on company or workplace-level responses - and occasionally, responses about the community or local authorities. It is rare to see any discussion on how labour organisations and migrant bodies engage with state institutions, especially at the national level. Questions of regulation are addressed in so far as unions do raise issues related to equality and social rights with respect to immigrant communities(2). The reason is that Trade Union have no direct relationship with state committees on such subjects as migration. Hence the dominant response has been through lobbying for services and rights in relation to housing and employment rights on an ad hoc basis(3). This is a problem that we aim to address. International and domestic legal frameworks are already in place.

There are opportunities for unions and community groups to collaborate to advance a collective rights agenda for all workers, regardless of their legal status. However, because trade unions in the UK are much more cautious, indeed wary, of working outside their own structures, and have been actively opposed to the setting up of 'alternative' worker organisations for migrants like the US workers' centres"(4), there is a yawning gap at the intersection of immigration law and employment law that allows employers to exploit migrant workers.

In despair, migrants turn to community organisations in the voluntary and charity sector with no expertise in labour migration law. Inevitably, as recent studies carried out by Great London Authority have found, their organisational structure, both hierarchical and informal structures seemed unresponsive to complaints about employment issues or willing to make adjustments"(5). These findings are supported by studies carried out by Modern Slavery PEC. Evidence shows that "people with lived experience of modern slavery often have complex and intersecting legal needs. Yet, they face a range of challenges in accessing legal advice. These challenges stem from issues relating to the supply of legal aid, awareness of rights, and support in accessing this advice in practice"(6). To address the challenges we face, the solutions they propose include greater collaboration between legal advice providers and frontline organisations, Free legal advice should be made available for people with lived experience of modern slavery as a standalone entitlement, and Improving advice and support services addressing the intersection of migration issues and labour exploitation. 

Are we migrant workers with lived experience of human trafficking for labour exploitation best placed to tackle human trafficking?   Academics and the voluntary sector agree; Engaging with 'lived experience' is quickly becoming non-negotiable in the human trafficking and modern slavery sector[t]. Anti-trafficking policies and programmes have historically been a closed shop. Generally speaking, a narrow set of people - governments, a small number of (often faith-based) NGOs, and their elite allies from around the world - have dominated discussions. Those who have experienced forms of trafficking have been kept out.[t] If there's one lesson, it's that each context has its own challenges and its own changemakers. Yet some commonalities underpin all ethical and meaningful engagement with lived experience. Doing it well requires connecting with both local leadership and at-risk communities(7)". 

Workers' organisations with lived experience must lead on labour migration issues with the State and employers to protect migrant workers' rights. That is non-negotiable. We need new ways led by people with lived experience to engage with the State and employers on migrant labour migration issues. 

The legal framework

section 23(2)(a) Immigration act  2006. The  Secretary of State is required to issue a code of practice specifying what employers should or should not do in order to ensure that, while avoiding liability to a penalty under section 15 and while avoiding the commission of an offence under section 21,  they also avoid discriminating against us. 

Why is this important? Homegrown slavery is rooted in conflicting domestic laws and policies, which results in discriminatory employment practices. Discrimination is the fuel that powers slavery and denies the victims access to justice. "While some remain deeply invested in the idea that forced labour has nothing to do with structural inequalities, or that in this context race and gender matter little, there is an abundance of research that demonstrates that poverty and labour exploitation disproportionately impact women, lower castes, and non-white and indigenous people" (Source).  Under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, the public sector duty places the responsibility on the State to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.   

 Under the  Immigration Act 2006, the  Secretary of State is required to consult with:

  1. The Commission for Equality and Human Rights,
  2. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland,
  3. Such bodies representing employers as he thinks appropriate, and
  4. Such bodies representing workers as he thinks appropriate

ILO Protocol Po29

The measures taken to apply the provisions of this Protocol and of the Convention to eradicate forced labour must be determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the organisations of employers and workers concerned. 

We aim to persuade the government and the relevant statutory agencies and businesses to engage with people, who have lived experience of immigration status and race discrimination-related forced labour, to develop safe pathways to decent work to tackle Homegrown slavery. Words matter; it is urgent to develop a new language between the State and migrants with lived experience to foster trust and bridge the gap between international laws and domestic laws. 

Contact:  Catriona Gotz, Labour & workers' organisation rights officer- Global Studies Programme MA student


(1) Eurofound (2016), Regulation of labour market intermediaries and the role of social partners in preventing trafficking of labour 

(2) Connolly, Lucio and Marino (2012),Trade Unions and Migration in the UK: Equality and Migrant Worker Engagement without Collective Rights, p15   

(3) Connolly, Lucio and Marino (2012), Trade Unions and Migration in the UK: Equality and Migrant Worker Engagement without Collective Rights, p17          

(4)  Connolly,  Lucio and Marino (2012), Trade Unions and Migration in the UK: Equality and Migrant Worker Engagement without Collective Rights, p14

(5)GLA, High Risk(2022), No Reward: Resolving Employment Rights Issues in London.

(6) Modern Slavery PEC( 2023), Impacts of lack of legal advice on modern slavery survivors.

(7) Open Democracy( 2023), Could survivors help 'fix' anti-trafficking? 


Create your website for free! This website was made with Webnode. Create your own for free today! Get started