A group of 25 Malians without papers, who had been illegally employed on a big building site in Paris in 2016, have each been awarded €34,000 in damages, with interest, for “systematic racial discrimination” by a French employment tribunal.
The French employment tribunal, “Le Conseil de Prud’Hommes de Paris” made the award to the group of 25 Malians on Tuesday, 17 December. The men, who were living undocumented in France, had been employed illegally on the building site in 2016. They were each awarded €34,000 in damages with interest, as well as almost €3,000 in unpaid salary after it was found they had been subjected to “systematic racial discrimination.”
The men had been working on a huge building site in the seventh arrondissement; a very well-to-do area of Paris. The building site was administered by a property development company called MT Bat which was put into compulsory liquidation by the court.
A refusal to call the emergency services after a serious incident
“This is an important victory. It is a real legal step forward,” said the lawyer for the 25 men, Me Aline Chanu to InfoMigrants. “These men have re-found their place in society, and a certain dignity, thanks to this decision. Until now, people would say to them ‘well if you are not happy about this, then you can just go home can’t you.’ Today, they were finally able to rid themselves of this threat.”
The Malian workers were supported by the powerful CGT union in France, which called a strike following two serious accidents when some unsecured scaffolding fell. In one incident, the employer refused to call the emergency services even after one of the Malian workers lay unconscious on the ground.
The workers, who were subsequently employed by the Capron company (who took over the running of the building site) had originally sought €66,000 euros per person from the employment tribunal.
‘Workers assigned the worst tasks on the building site’
During the hearing, the men’s representative from the institution Defender of Rights in France, whose leader is appointed by the French President every six years, said they believed that the property company MT Bat had “deliberately employed workers without papers” for both “economic reasons” and to “confine” them to the worst tasks on the site with “contemptible” security safeguards.
The employment tribunal recognized that “all the Malian workers had indeed been assigned to the worst tasks on the building site and had been working in extremely dangerous conditions.”
The recognition of “systematic discrimination” is a legal first according to Me Chanu. “Now this legal decision could be applied to many other sectors, for instance people working for cleaning firms or on renovation projects.”
In France it is forbidden for undocumented migrants to work. However, “in reality the vast majority of those without papers work in often degrading conditions of employment,” Marilyne Poulain, a member of the board for the CGT union, explained to InfoMigrants in October. “Sometimes they have a residency card which has expired, sometimes they work with someone else’s identity papers.”
In theory if employers want to employ someone without papers they can apply for papers on their employee’s behalf. They have to fill out forms on the CERFA website from the Interior Ministry. However, very few employers want to jump through the hoops and undertake a long bureaucratic process; especially when the criteria for gaining permission to work legally are actually very restrictive.
This article was translated from the French by Emma Wallis.