Page 4: Social factors
A number of social factors have increased the flow of workers into the UK. Many migrants moved to the UK to improve their standard of living. Social factors in the UK also contribute to the demand for migrant workers in the UK. The UK has an ageing population. Without immigration, the labour force would be shrinking. As a result, there is a smaller labour force supporting the growing population of retired workers. This is forecast to get worse over the next 20 years. There are also specific vocational areas where the UK has a skills shortage. For example, 16% of all care workers are migrant workers. These workers are skilled workers who have trained in their home nations. Without them, the range of care provision would be less.
Many social issues may affect migrant workers whilst they are in the UK. For example, UNISON is aware that many migrant workers have difficulty communicating in English. This creates problems with understanding important documents such as contracts of employment, company rules and notices. Migrant workers are often unaware of their rights in the workplace.
The language barrier also affects migrants outside the workplace. It causes difficulties in shops, accessing housing and education and understanding the welfare system. Not being able to understand cultural issues such as behaviour and customs is another big factor. Together these problems make many migrant workers feel socially excluded from English-speaking co-workers.
UNISON has helped many migrant workers overcome these issues in different ways:
- It produces workers' rights leaflets in 11 different languages.
- It also works with community groups like the ONNS (Overseas Network of Nurses in Scotland). These groups provide advice and social communities for overseas workers.
- UNISON has provided information on welfare and tax so workers can understand what they need to pay and any benefits they can receive.
- Recently it has developed a dedicated migrant workers” section on its website where key information is available in a range of languages.
- It is also running ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses to help migrant members learn English.
As part of UNISON's bargaining agenda, it is seeking to make employers aware of the issues that are important to migrant workers. For example, it wants employers to print health and safety rules in other languages and to provide migrant workers with a welcome pack that gives information about local services and sources of information. It also aims to persuade employers to provide paid time off and pay course costs for workers attending language courses. Because migrant workers are better able to identify the bargaining issues that are important to them, UNISON believes it is important for them to be members and actively involved in the union.