Last updated 16.10.08
UNISON Welfare Information Sheet
Support for migrant workers
Many UNISON branches are encountering an increasing number of cases involving
migrant workers, many in the healthcare sector. Such workers often find themselves
subject to poor rates of pay and discriminatory conditions.
Most migrant workers come to this country having pursued advertisements for
employment in their home country. They hope to better their position and provide an
improved standard of living for themselves and their families. Many leave dependant
children at home in the care of a partner or other family members.
There are many issues for migrant workers to contend with. Above all they need to
know their rights and that there is a union they can join which will help them to
defend their rights and that through UNISON Welfare additional personal support can
be offered at times of difficulty.
In this information sheet we
• outline some of the issues for migrant workers and the barriers to getting help
• provide general information on UNISON Welfare services and how we can
help branches to support migrant workers
• explain recent changes to our criteria for financial assistance to help support
• show how you can utilise this information in your recruitment work
• list some sources of further information/support
Issues and barriers faced by migrant workers
There are many different issues affecting migrant workers and many barriers to
getting help. These are just some.
Language: Language is a key issue as it impacts on so many other factors.
Language difficulties in turn lead to isolation which is itself a barrier to obtaining help
Apart from translating literature and having access to appropriate translation services
one of the best ways to empower migrant workers is to help them onto an ESOL
(English as a Second Language) course.
Status: Many migrant workers have difficulty accessing services such as a GP, bank
account and state benefits, many of the things which help to provide us with a sense
of security and status.
Although not a guarantee of entitlement to state benefits, obtaining a National
Insurance number is an important gateway to services and a degree of legal status.
Locating appropriate sources of help requires time and resources – difficult when
under pressure or if you do not understand the system.
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Apart from informing them of their rights, helping the member to obtain access to
basic services can be a very constructive and relatively simple way of providing initial
Work permits: Many encounter difficulty renewing work permits with employers
sometimes refusing to renew them thus forcing them to work illegally or not at all.
This can pose special difficulties for migrant workers whose immigration status may
mean they are not entitled to claim state benefits. Delays can also occur at the Home
Family and dependants: Many migrant workers have family or dependants in their
home country whom they may also be sending money to. This can cause special
difficulties at times of illness or bereavement as the member is separated from family
and is also faced with additional expenditure associated with travel and obtaining
Again, being isolated from family and social networks can also make it harder to
How UNISON Welfare can help
We are a unique confidential service offering advice and support just for UNISON
members and their families.
• Debt advice
• Listening and support
• Financial assistance
• Breaks and holidays
• General advice
There are many ways that we can support migrant workers. Contact us for further
information about our services or visit the welfare pages on the UNISON website.
We have recently amended our criteria for financial assistance to take account of
their needs. For example:
We can extend weekly assistance above the 12 weeks maximum that usually
applies. This is to take account of the lengthy periods often involved in obtaining
work permits and the fact that many migrant workers will not be eligible for state
benefits. (Weekly grants are designed to cover basic living costs such as food
Additional help with housing costs outside our normal criteria may also be
Assistance with travel for appointments (e.g. for hospital visits) can also been
extended beyond the 12 week maximum.
We can now take account of dependants in the home country and money sent
overseas when assessing an application.
In bereavement cases where a wellbeing break is sought and where the
deceased (dependant or parent) was resident in another country travel abroad
can be considered.
A full copy of the criteria can be downloaded from the welfare pages on the website.
If you need to discuss a member’s needs in confidence or have any questions about
Last updated 16.10.08
our services and how to apply then please contact us at national office and ask to
speak to a caseworker. Your branch welfare officer may also be able to help.
Tel: 020 7551 1620
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.unison.org.uk/welfare
UNISON Welfare Debtline: 0800 389 3302
8am to 9pm Monday – Friday and 9am to 3pm Saturdays
How to apply
Our application for financial assistance and wellbeing breaks application forms and
guidelines can be printed in printer friendly versions from the website or ordered from
communications quoting stock no.s 1955 and 2391 respectively.
Alternatively you can obtain these from UNISON Welfare at national office or your
branch welfare officer. Please read the guidelines on how to complete the application
forms or again contact us at national office or speak to your branch welfare officer for
‘When am I getting my card?’ is a typical refrain from new recruits but having a
membership card takes on special meaning for migrant workers many of whom are
denied their basic employment rights.
In a recent survey two thirds of members agreed that knowing about UNISON
Welfare would encourage them to join UNISON. This figure increased to 85%
amongst young members and black and ethnic minority members.
No wonder! No other trade union has a charitable arm providing a range of welfare
services like UNISON.
Our credit-card sized publicity card with our contact details is an ideal way to
publicise this help as part of your recruitment campaign and can be obtained from
Communications quoting stock no 2390 (but do follow up new members to make sure
they have received their membership card!)
UNISON nationally also produces a range of materials which can be accessed via
the online catalogue and some regions have also produced their own materials
aimed at migrant workers.
UNISON’s Migrant Workers Unit
UNISON has established a unit to co-ordinate its work in recruiting and representing
migrant workers. These web pages will also take you to the UNISON branch
handbook – ‘Organising Migrant Workers’ www.unison.org.uk/migrantworkers
Last updated 16.10.08
Further sources of support and information
This list is not exhaustive and your branch and your branch’s welfare officer should
build up a list of local community organisations and agencies for making links and
referring members where necessary. Please also refer to the more extensive list in
UNISON’s ‘Organising Migrant Workers’ handbook (see above).
Where legal advice is needed on immigration that affects someone’s right to work,
the case should be referred through the regional office to the Employment Rights
Unit at UNISON National Office.
National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux www.nacab.org.uk
CAB’s deal with 35,000 immigration, nationality and asylum problems a year. They
can also advise on entitlement to benefits. NACAB provides briefing documents on
their website as well as links to local centres.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants www.jcwi.org.uk
Campaigns for justice in immigration and asylum law and policy.
Refugee Action www.refugee-action.org.uk
Enables refugees to build new lives through advice and information, community
development, enhancing opportunity and campaigning for refugee rights.
Refugee Council www.refugeecouncil.org.uk
Gives direct help and support to and works with asylum seekers and refugees to
ensure their needs and concerns are met.
The Scottish Refugee Council www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk
The equivalent body in Scotland
Financial Services Authority www.moneymadeclear.fsa.gov.uk
This is the FSA’s site for general advice about financial products and services.
Contains useful information on areas such as opening a bank account and the
options available to migrant workers for providing proof of identity.