10th December 2007


 Issue No.  2007/34



(No.4 in a series of 4)

In this the last (phew) update on employing foreign nationals, we look at some of the key practical implications employers need to address.  Those with a multicultural workforce will find that these considerations are nothing new and whilst prompted by the need to deal with ‘Eastern Europe’ related matters the principals, of course, apply to all employee groups irrespective of where they originate from.
Employers need to treat all Foreign National workers equally to other workers. In other words they should not discriminate or subject foreign nationals to less favourable treatment and should take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination/harassment by other workers/third parties on the grounds of their nationality, race, or ethnic or national origins. 
The nature of the job role will be a prime consideration here.  If the role requires the post holder to converse with persons whose first language is English (e.g. receptionist, call centre operative) then clearly a proficiency in spoken English would be a reasonable requirement of the post holder (A recent tribunal ruling reminds us that English spoken with a strong accent should not be a factor.)  Where the role does not require this (e.g. warehouse operative, manual labourer) then clearly the requirement is diminished and should not be seen as an essential requirement for appointment to the role.
Foreign National workers have the same rights as other workers and are entitled to be on the same terms and conditions as other workers doing similar work, e.g. issued with a Principal Statement of Terms and Conditions of Employment, paid the same rates of pay, same holiday entitlement, same hours of work, etc.
Employers should consider how the Terms and Conditions, induction programme, job training is communicated to the workers, where the workers’ English language skill are limited.
Employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, workers and other third parties.
Providing a safe working environment can be achieved by implementing basic health and safety measures including where appropriate:
  • Displaying safety signs prominently;
  • Carrying out Risk Assessments;
  • Issue Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a last resort and train workers of when and how to use it;
  • Have procedures in place (e.g. fire evacuation procedures);
  • Provide training (e.g. manual handling, use of PPE);
  • Maintain records along with other associated documents;
  • Publicise an operative Health and Safety Policy;
  • Develop and use safe working procedures.
A major issue for Employers is communicating the above to workers especially when English is not their first language.  In a recent case, an Uxbridge based company were fined £35,000 at a London Magistrates court following an accident in which a Romanian Worker lost a leg after being hit by a 20-tonne loading shovel.  The worker claimed that he had not understood the company’s health and safety systems because of his limited English.
Employers should review how employment terms, rules and procedures, employee handbooks, safety signs, safety policy, risk assessments, work systems, methods, training etc. and other such key documents are communicated to workers. 
Are they fully understood in their current format?  If not, make provision for special training including interpreters or for translated documents to be available.  This is the only sure way to reach the stage where the worker knows the rules and procedures and does not put themselves or other workers at risk of death or injury.  
Sentient are able to signpost you to a Translation Service if required, or if you require any Health & Safety support, call us on 08456 446 006.



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