Unions participate in regularising position of immigrant workers

Download article in original language : PT0103138NPT.DOC

In January 2001, a new law was adopted on immigrant workers in Portugal, which will make it easier for immigrants in employment to gain residence rights and allow illegal immigrants to regularise their situation. However, difficulties in applying the law have already led the authorities to reinterpret the law in order to improve its implementation. Trade unions have become more actively involved in the regularisation process, primarily by providing more information and greater support to immigrant workers.

Decree-Law 4/2001 of 10 January 2001 introduced changes to the conditions governing the entrance, stay, departure and removal of non-EU immigrants in Portugal ( PT0101131F). The law determined that the legal right for immigrants to remain in Portugal would be contingent upon them having an employment contract drawn up by the employing entity. The legislation makes it easier for immigrants in employment to gain residence rights and allow illegal immigrants to regularise their situation.

However, the process of regularising the position of immigrants has been hampered by a number of problems:

  • the difficulty of disseminating adequate information on the legalisation process to prospective applicants;
  • the fact that employers who benefit from having workers in situations of precarious employment often refuse to give foreign workers legitimate employment contracts;
  • the fact that intermediaries which recruit and deploy immigrant labour often hold the passports of the workers concerned; and
  • the fact that immigrants may be unemployed.

Because of these problems, the discussion on regularising the position of immigrants has shifted focus. It has now been proposed that an immigrant should be able to achieve legal status even without a written contract and that the actual proof of employment the immigrant is required to submit for regularisation purposes should be re-examined. The Department of Foreigners and Borders (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, SEF), Portugal's immigration authority, has started removing the impediments to regularisation in the cases of workers who cannot obtain a valid written employment contract. The General Labour Inspectorate (Inspecção Geral do Trabalho, IGT) has determined that if an employer refuses to give the worker a contract, that worker shall not be placed at a disadvantage.

This fresh interpretation of the law will therefore allow the employment contract or written employment proposal to be substituted by a statement written by the worker concerned, identifying the entity for which he or she works. The worker will also be required to present two witnesses, and must also submit a document from the appropriate trade union, confirming the existence of the claimed employment relationship.

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), has carried out a number of information sessions for illegal immigrants throughout the country and produced information brochures which have been distributed at worksites. The Union of Construction Workers of Southern Portugal (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores da Construção do Sul), a CGTP affiliate, has taken an active role in the process by producing foreign-language material explaining the steps workers must take to legalise their status and secure their rights as workers.

The General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT) has opened more than 50 centres throughout the country to provide information and support for foreign workers in Portugal. The UGT also sponsors an "information-on-wheels" initiative, with a bus distributing brochures in neighbourhoods with a high concentration of immigrant people.

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