Black Labor: Migrants’ Source of Living in Europe

Governments Take Deterrent Measures to Protect Economy
Although European countries have not issued accurate data about the number of workers in “black labor”, estimates by economists indicate that their number amounts to millions. (AFP)
Migrant workers clean fields amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

In an increasingly remarkable scene in Europe’s streets, people meet at modest coffee shops at night to complain about being ill-treated by their employers. On speaking to media or meeting journalists, most of these people would ask for help with residence permit thinking that media people can provide them.

Black labor (the popular term for illegal work) is widespread in various Western countries, particularly in Europe. This phenomenon is highly recurrent in poor neighborhoods and suburbs at the outskirts of major cities, as some people join many jobs upon an oral agreement between the worker and the employer without formal contract or permit that stipulates a specific salary which is directly reported to the taxes authority in the relevant country.

Although European countries have not issued accurate data about the number of workers in “black labor”, estimates by economists indicate that their number amounts to millions and the losses arising from this practice are huge and varying among countries; with an average loss of 10% to 20 % of Gross National Product (GDP).

European economy incurs annual losses in billions of euros, due to workers evading the payment of specified fees to social security, pensions and tax authorities in exchange for social entitlements. In addition, majority of these workers receive unemployment benefits beside their black jobs, in case they are legal residents of the land where they work or which they carry the citizenship of.

Despite the fact that this phenomenon has been widespread in Europe decades ago, recent governmental statistics highlighted that the number of black workers have dramatically increased since the start of the largest influx of refugees in 2015. Black work is prevalent in a variety of fields, such as cafes, restaurants, construction, and agriculture.

For example, in France, the largest portion of workers in black labor are Turkish of various ethnicities, followed by Arabs of difference nationalities including Syrians, then come Africans and others.

A Syrian worker (36 years old) has been working in a “black job” in indoor decorations for eight years in France. He told Majalla, “Such work is the only way to earn money,” because he doesn’t know the language nor have a certificate to land himself a legal job.

He went on to say, “We can’t work with French people or other formal companies, because most of them won’t hire us due to lack of certificates and an advanced language level.  Thus we are forced to work for Arabs and Turks in ‘black jobs’, while knowing that in some cases we might not receive our due money after the work is finished, because we can’t claim our rights or take those employers to court. We don’t have evidence of our work with them.”

In France and other European countries, citizens and foreign residents, whatever their status is, should pay annual taxes to the government (except for students), according to the monthly payroll of each individual if they are employees or the profits of their businesses, if they are employers. Sometimes the sums of these taxes are astronomical and unaffordable.

One might think that most of workers in black labor are foreigners, but in fact the opposite is true. Statistics show that large number of European employers and employees started to use a similar manipulation by revealing half or quarter of their monthly income or profits of their businesses, in order to evade high taxes imposed by their governments. Thus, they apply the same technique of tax fraud used by the migrants by not revealing their real income to the state, which results in more potential economic losses incurred by the European governments.

Foreign workers who join the black labor market can be considered “low earners” compared with big businesses which deceive the state about large amounts of money. In many cases low earners don’t seek black labor to evade taxes, but they in fact are forced to do so because large numbers of them do not have residence permit in the countries they are working in, which leaves them with limited options to earn a living.

Employers use this method to decrease the amount of taxes they annually pay, but if the official authorities know about their fraud, they would be sentenced to years in prison and pay a huge fine. In fear of that punishment, some employers would seek “half-black labor”, as labeled by a Syrian refugee in France who said, “In some cases, when we work for 100 hours a month, we report to the state working for 50 hours only. The remaining hours are set up orally with the employer to be paid in cash. That way helps him decreases his due taxes.”

“Half-black” labor is formal and legal, but employers use it to deceive the government by not reporting the actual working hours of their employees. If discovered, this action will be punished under the law of tax evasion.

Labor conditions of “half-black” workers are apparently better and more legal than “black” workers. The first can still file claims against their employers to ask for their money, because they have formal work contracts, but the latter can’t demand their rights due to absence of such contracts that prove that they are employed, in addition to the fact that they don’t have residence permit in the country they work in.

Probably the most famous and weird incident with regard to tax evasion and subsequent punishment, was the case of Former French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac who was a staunch supporter of the fight against tax evasion during his tenure. Cahuzac was sentenced to four years in jail besides a fine of 300 thousand euros by a French court, over his indictment of committing the same crime of tax fraud.

Economists think that many reasons have caused such phenomenon, mainly the complicated administrative measures in providing work permits for foreigners and the high fees to be paid by employers for social security. As for foreign workers, they turn to illegal jobs to evade taxes and other reasons such as the lack of good language and certificates, and sometimes the lack of residence permit.


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