Integrating refugees will also benefit trade unions
By Klaus Heeger
With a total of 1.3 million asylum applications in Europe in 2015, the issue of how to integrate refugees into our societies is one of the most important challenges. Their fast integration into the labour market is key.
A recent European Parliament report on the labour market integration of refugees stresses the fundamental role of social partners in this domain.
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However, the general fear of a massive influx of a young and less-qualified labour force exercising pressure on social and labour protection standards means that trade unions are reluctant to address the issue.
Such an influx of manpower may indeed have an impact on labour laws and social protection standards; it might challenge minimum wages and increase precarious work, not least in the name of flexibility and employability.
A recent article from Eurofound highlighted this particular point: “While employers claim that refugees could help address skills shortages, unions are concerned about the consequences for the working conditions of both the refugees and lower-paid segments of the existing workforce."
With the low-skills sector under particular pressure, the suspicion that migration will only serve the elites and not the poorer classes could be oil on the fire of anti-immigration sentiment by pointing at labour market integration measures for refugees, favouring them at the expense of a forgotten working class.
Not surprisingly, trade unions have been apprehensive about the potential reactions of their traditional members, possible victims of future labour distribution battles who may see themselves betrayed by their own representatives.
And yet trade unions are called upon to invest more in helping migrants set foot in labour markets.
An investment in the interest of migrants and host societies is both an altruistic and humanitarian move as well as a selfish one: the expansion of trade unions’ roles and responsibilities may also allow them to play a decisive card in the mitigation of the potentially negative consequences of massive labour market integration, and, last but not least, to fully tap into the potential of refugees as future employees and trade union members.
Having new and active members with a migrant background is synonymous with adapting to changes in society – and being fit and prepared to face the future.
Klaus Heeger is the Secretary General of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI).