EU Science Hub

The coronavirus pandemic highlights the vulnerability of migrant workers in the EU

Migrants are at the front line of performing crucial tasks to keep European citizens healthy and safe during the pandemic.
Migrants are at the front line of performing crucial tasks to keep European citizens healthy and safe during the pandemic.
Jun 09 2020

Low wages, lack of job security and social protection make migrant workers more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

A recent JRC study highlighted the importance of migrant workers in the EU’s coronavirus response.

The analysis showed that migrants are at the front line of performing crucial tasks to keep European citizens healthy and safe during the pandemic.

And yet, according to a new JRC analysis, it is migrant workers who might suffer the worst effects of the economic downturn.  

While governments across Europe are taking action to protect jobs and livelihoods, there is a risk that some migrant workers fall short of these protections.

The JRC analysis shows that migrant workers are more likely to be employed on temporary contracts, earn lower wages and carry out tasks that are not compatible with teleworking. 

The study further distinguishes between the migrant workers who are performing key tasks in terms of the coronavirus response – e.g. nurses and other healthcare workers – and those whose jobs are less relevant for the immediate response.

It shows that while the migrant workers employed in key occupations are not likely to lose their jobs in the middle of the pandemic, their direct exposure to the virus and possible lack of social protection make them vulnerable.

On the other hand, workers who are performing less essential tasks for the coronavirus  response face an increased risk of losing their jobs as companies struggle with the economic effects of the crisis.

The study calls for policy actions in support of migrant workers, possibly differentiating between workers employed in key occupations from others.

It also urges to remove - at least temporarily - existing barriers to full health care access for foreign nationals.

The study stresses that it is in the interest of governments to include migrants in the policy responses as this will not only help protect this particularly vulnerable group during the crisis, but also help sustain a workforce that will be critical for the on-going mitigation efforts and the future recovery.

Present and future measures must protect all workers

In its communication on 20 April 2020, the European Commission recognised the significant impact that the crisis will have on social conditions, in particular for vulnerable groups.

Those who were already vulnerable prior to the crisis (such as workers on temporary contracts, the low-paid, the involuntary part-time and self-employed, and migrant workers) are likely to be hit hardest, also through unequal access to digital infrastructure and skills.

Recognising that many workers in essential occupations in the frontline response to the coronavirus pandemic also belong to these vulnerable categories is important to respond to their specific needs.

It is a priority to mitigate the social impacts and avoid a permanent rise in poverty and inequalities. Present and future measures need to protect all workers.

The EU promotes fair employment conditions for migrant workers

The EU promotes fair employment conditions for people working abroad, as part of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

EU citizens who work in another Member State are entitled to equal treatment with nationals as far as access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax conditions are concerned.

It is of utmost importance to preserve jobs, provide adequate unemployment benefits and income replacement to all workers.

The European Commission Action Plan on the integration of third-country nationals supports since 2016 the Member States in their efforts to develop and strengthen their migrant integration policies.

The plan includes actions across all the policy areas that are crucial for integration, including actions to promote early integration into the labour market, and access to basic services such as healthcare.

The 2020 Commission Work Programme foresees the adoption of a new ‘Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion’.

EU guidance on protection of the health and safety of workers

The EU has taken numerous steps to support Member States and employers to ensure proper protection of the health and safety of workers, including the publication of two sets of guidance:

The EU legislation on health and safety at work applies to all workers, independently of their immigration status.

JRC researcher Jacopo Mazza conducted the study in collaboration with Francesco Fasani of the Queen Mary University of London.