Trade unions ask: Is EU becoming the New Gulf region? 

The Building and Woodworkers' International (BWI) and the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) held a webinar on the plight of third country nationals (TCN) working in Europe last 2 June. 

With the rousing title, "Is the EU becoming the new Gulf region?,” different resource speakers and reactors shared their insights on the numerous issues and challenges faced by the EU's migrant workers. 

“The title speaks for itself," said BWI International Women's Committee (IWC) President Rita Schiavi, who opened the event. “For a quite some time now, we have witnessed how the European Union became a major destination of migrant workers not only from the region, but also from third countries. These workers are often stuck with abusive intermediaries. They work under precarious labour contracts, receive poor wages and are victims of wage thefts. This is the reality of EU migrant workers, which can now be compared to the situation in the Gulf region." 

Sonila Danaj of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research highlighted the role of of labour recruiters (formal and informal) who take advantage of vulnerable workers by transferring them either to intermediaries or  user-companies. Danaj said that recruiters bring migrant workers to EU-border countries like Poland, Slovenia and Italy, and from there, they are posted to EU countries.  

Sharing the Gulf region experience, Philippines Labor Attache II David Des Dicang narrated the intermediaries’ fraudulent practice of asking exorbitant fees from workers in exchange of the false promise of a well-paid job in the EU and the Gulf region. 

For their part,  trade union leaders and officials from Ukraine, Germany, Italy and Sweden talked about the situation of migrant workers in their respective countries. They also discussed trade union support to migrant workers, best practices to ensure their rights and proposals to further improve their situation.  

Among the main challenges that were highlighted in the migrant workers’ countries of destination were the weak enforcement of national and EU laws, as well as CBA provisions. In Sweden alone, while almost all forestry companies are covered by strong CBAs that ensure migrant workers’ rights, various rights violations still occur. 

The sustainable organising of migrant workers was also deliberated. One proposal is to organise migrant workers in their countries of origin before they even work abroad to make it easier for trade unions based in their countries of destination to reach out to them. Ukraine tweaked this proposal by proposing a labour education component. Another proposal from Germany and Sweden is to lower trade union fees for migrant workers (for 12 months) who want to become members of trade unions in their countries of destination. 

In his closing statement, EFBWW Standing Committee Building Chair Gunde Odgaard said that the enforcement of formal rights in the EU covering migrant workers is a major challenge. 

“How could it be possible that in 2021, with all our knowledge on migrant workers’ issues, we have this lingering problem? Is it probably because our governments are interested in exporting and importing workers as source of cheap labour?” Gunde asked.


“We have to stop this. As trade unions we have our policies and demands in place. We have just issued EFBWW-BWI joint position paper on the migration of third country nationals to Europe that we will share far and wide. We have to enforce the EU’s legal framework. We also need to work with labour clauses in the public procurement contracts and bring the attention of our governments on what is happening on construction sites employing migrant workers,” Odgaard remarked.