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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, Dr 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 Dr Fitzgerald’s robust evidence, the Northern TUC was able to apply for funding and it adopted several strategies for supporting migrant workers.

Today, the Polish community is the largest non-UK born population living in the UK. With xenophobic hate crime at worrying levels post-Brexit, Dr 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 100 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).

Dr 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), which involves over 100 dedicated community-based organisations, policy makers, institutions and academics promoting and ensuring race equality throughout the region.

Far from remaining within the confines of the North East, Dr 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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