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Research opens doors for migrant workers

In one year alone – between April 2015 and March 2016 – the police recorded more than 49,000 incidences of race hate crimes. In the month following the EU referendum, with just over half of the UK voting for Brexit, the number of racially or religiously aggravated offenses almost doubled compared to the same month in the previous year. Research conducted at Northumbria University is opening doors for Polish and other European migrant workers, helping them to feel part of British society.

More than 10 years ago, Professor Ian Fitzgerald, an expert in employment relations at Northumbria, was the first to gather evidence on the unethical, and oftentimes illegal treatment of Polish workers in the North of England. 

His investigations, undertaken for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), found that this particular group of migrant workers were frequently underpaid, subjected to illegal employment contracts and living in poor housing conditions; some had experienced violent behaviour from their employers. Thanks to Professor Fitzgerald’s robust evidence, the Northern TUC was able to apply for funding and it adopted several strategies for supporting migrant workers. These have included English language training for migrant workers, courses on Tackling Racism in the workplace for trade union representatives and targeted recruitment campaigns. Some of these strategies have also been repeated in Tunisia through the TUC’s partnership with Tunisia’s general labour union – Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT).

Professor Fitzgerald’s research on trade unions and the EU referendum also uncovered weaknesses in the democratic and participative decision-making processes of the unions that the TUC are now working to address – through their training and development ‘Leading Change’ programme and other digital initiatives. These aim to improve the ability of unions to fully understand, and therefore respond to, the needs and wishes of their members.

Today, the Polish community is the largest non-UK born population living in the UK. With xenophobic hate crime at worrying levels post-Brexit, Professor Fitzgerald’s work is more pertinent than ever. 

He is engaging with British and Polish media outlets to raise awareness of the issue, and has written information and research briefs that have been distributed to various Polish and English channels, including around 300 community based organisations, policy makers, institutions involved in promoting and ensuring race equality throughout the region, and academics via the North East Race, Crime and Justice Regional Research Network (NERCJRRN). 

Professor Fitzgerald’s race hate crime briefs are leading to important discussions with the Polish community as well as the establishment of links between the police and migrants. NERCJRRN has also created a North East Race Equality Forum (NEREF).

Far from remaining within the confines of the North East, Professor Fitzgerald’s research outputs are being cited in European Parliament and Commission policy documents, meaning that millions of migrants are benefiting from the impact of his work. 

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