A migrant worker is a worker who has come to work in the UK or Ireland within the past five years. Foreign workers have long been used by employers and are a vital labour source for some industries. The recent growth of the European Union has increased the number of people allowed to work in the UK and Ireland. The result has been a significant growth in the numbers of foreign workers.

The UK Border Agency requires employers to check that all prospective workers’ are entitled to work in the UK before employing them. There are strict penalties for employing illegal workers. Where you are found to be employing an illegal worker, albeit unwittingly, to avoid penalties you will need to show that you have done all that you could to prevent illegal working. Passports and work permits (where needed) should be checked and copies kept on file. Comprehensive guidance and a checking service can be found on the UK Border Agency website.

Similarly the Irish government has imposed restrictions on the employment of migrant workers. Workers from the European Economic Area do not require work permits unless they are from the new EU member states of Romania and Bulgaria although this will be changing from the end of 2013. Information on the detailed rules currently in force is available from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The restrictions are enforced by the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

In health and safety terms one of the important issues to consider when employing migrant workers is their knowledge of the English language. Many can understand English better than they can speak it. This can be a problem in jobs where changing conditions require quick reactions to verbal communications. The inability to understand an instruction or to quickly give an instruction to a colleague could create a high risk to health and safety.

If foreign workers do not have the language skills to understand the training and instructions given to them, employers will need to make arrangements to provide the information and instruction in a language that they do understand. Where there are significant risks from the job the employer must be certain that the risks and control measures are understood and that Line Managers are able to properly communicate with workers. Consequently non-verbal methods of communication such as signs and pictures detailing warnings and hazards can be very useful as they can be interpreted by workers from many countries.