Brexit threats to rights of migrant workers and students

Roland Erne28/06/2016

Roland Erne: All European citizens have just been stripped of their European citizenship rights in Northern Ireland and Britain. Hence, no European right to vote in local elections, no European social rights (e.g. no European Health Insurance Card), and no European right to be treated equally anymore.



What a ‘success’ for the ‘internationalist’ pro-Brexit left of Britain and Ireland! As a result, European migration to the UK will be reduced significantly. But note, I mean student migration not labour migration.

If the UK fails to secure accession to the European Economic Area or a comparable bilateral agreement, the Erasmus student exchange programmes will come to an end. In addition, only the children of South and East European oligarchs will be able to pay the higher fees for ‘foreign’ students that British and Northern Irish universities will be able to charge, once the obligation to treat all Europeans equally will be revoked.

In turn, however, labour migration to the UK will not decline, as the opportunities to exploit European migrant workers will increase. Striping migrant workers of their European citizenship rights will make them even more vulnerable to exploitation and therefore more attractive for unscrupulous employers.

When migrant workers are left without social rights and lose their right to move freely between employers, however, not only Europe’s new bondage workers will suffer but also the local workforce, as demonstrated by the US example. Incidentally, the exclusion of the free movement of workers in the NAFTA agreement did not stop the race of US wages and working conditions to the bottom.

The only solution against social dumping lies in the better enforcement of national wage and labour standards, as achieved for example by the Swiss accompanying measures to the EU-Switzerland Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, as outlined in a recent Cambridge Journal of Economics article. This, however, requires joint mobilisations of both local and migrant workers.

Yet, why should migrant workers make common causes with local ‘internationalist’ colleagues when they will learn that they have actively supported those that want to strip them of their European civil, social and political citizenship rights? What a victory for the good old 'divide and rule' tactic!

Even so, not everything maybe lost. After all, Switzerland’s centre-right parties and employer associations only agreed to the flanking measures against social dumping when they had to learn – incidentally, after a lost referendum vote – that such measures are necessary to secure a positive outcome in a subsequent referendum on Switzerland’s association with the European Union.

Roland Erne is Associate Professor of international and comparative employment relations and director of the European Masters in Labour Studies programme at University College Dublin.

Posted in: BrexitLabour marketInequality

Tagged with: labour standardsbrexitMigrant Women

Prof Roland Erne     @rolanderne

Roland Erne

Roland Erne is associate professor of international and comparative employment relations and director of the European Masters in Labour Studies programme at UCD. He is an adjunct professor at the ILR School, Cornell University and has been a research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo (2013-14), visiting professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan (2012) as well as a Marie Curie Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Social Justice, University of Oxford (2008).

A graduate of the Freie Universität Berlin and the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), he obtained his PhD in social and political sciences at the European University Institute in Florence.

His work centres on European governance and the social and political implications of transnational movements of goods, capital, services and people. He is interested in how interest associations and social movements - particularly unions - respond to processes of regional integration and globalisation.


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