Ukrainian union explores ways to protect migrant workers in EU

The Ukraine, Building Workers Union (PROFBUD) last 19 August held its annual migration conference which focused on ways to address problems of migrant workers from Ukraine amidst and after the pandemic.  

PROFBUD President Vasyl Andreyev said that it was the union’s first time to organise a conference in a hybrid format, or through a combination of online and face-to-face interactions. He said the that due to Ukraine’s more relaxed COVID-19 protocols, it allowed PROFBUD to bring together representatives from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Labour Organisation (ILO), trade unions from Israel, Finland, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukrainian government officials from Ukraine and leaders from international trade union federations.

IOM representatives observed that in recent years that the destination of the migration flows from Ukraine have changed, with EU countries becoming the focal point for Ukrainian migrant workers. It said that some of the top destination countries are Germany and Poland.  

This was affirmed by European Federation of Building and Wood Workers (EFBWW) General Secretary Tom Deleu who said that migration is a phenomenon in the EU construction sector. Proof of this, he reminded everyone of the school building collapse in the Belgium city of Antwerp where 5 workers were killed and many were injured. Deleu said that despite the fact that the school was built by a Belgium company in a contract with a Belgium (local) government, the workers who died and were injured were all migrant workers. 

Deleu emphasised the strong need to develop new tools to protect migrant workers in the EU. As an example, he pointed to the ECMIN website where migrant workers could find relevant information about working conditions in different EU countries accessible 30 languages.  

For his part, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson focused on how the EU countries are implementing laws to protect migrant workers’ rights.

“Let’s be honest and answer the questions, in reality, is the legal framework being followed? How are these laws really enforced and what are the accountability mechanisms for cases of abuse? Unfortunately, the honest answers to these questions will lead us to another question: is the EU becoming a new gulf-like region where in this case so-called third country national workers, driven by the need to find work and secure and income are too often stuck in the hands of abusive intermediaries, having to work under precarious labour contracts with poor wages and working conditions?” Yuson asked. 

Andreyev said that while the country doesn’t necessarily have the ideal model on how to protect migrant workers from Ukraine, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved. “If it is possible to find ways to protect migrant workers in the gulf region, I’m sure that we can do the same thing for migrant workers in Europe. In close coordination with our comrades in the destination countries, we will continue to explore various ways to promote migrant workers’ rights, especially amidst a pandemic,” he said.