Since the enlargement of the European Union, with the general principle that citizens of EU states have the right of free movement to work, increasing numbers of migrant workers have found employment in the United Kingdom. Migrant workers are generally regarded as being highly motivated, reliable and committed. Many of these workers do not have a fluent grasp of English and may be particularly vulnerable to failings in health and safety practices. The large number of migrant workers from Central and Eastern Europe currently employed in the United Kingdom has started to make an impact on health and safety and employment law.
These workers may be prepared to accept lower wages than their British counterparts, because wages in their home countries are far lower than those in the United Kingdom for comparable work. Those migrant workers who are highly educated find themselves in a position where they are not familiar with their employment rights. They may feel that they are in a vulnerable position in a foreign country with whose laws and customs they are unfamiliar. English employment tribunals and courts are increasingly demonstrating an awareness of this position.
The Health and Safety Executive has shown itself to be well aware of these problems. It has issued detailed advice and guidance on the proper management of migrant workers’ health and safety. The HSE recognises that factors such as poor language skills and unfamiliarity with the workplace can magnify the effects of existing health and safety problems. It advises that migrant workers with better English should be asked to interpret for their less fluent colleagues. Internationally recognised signs, videos or audio materials can be used to communicate health and safety messages.
In general, tribunals and courts have expressly recognised the problems arising in relation to large numbers of workers with a limited grasp of English language, law and culture. Spokespersons for the HSE have repeatedly commented on the vulnerability of such employees in relation to health and safety.