My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing the debate this evening. As he indicated, the TUC feels quite strongly about these changes in the Immigration Rules and has sent me a very substantial brief about it.
As already indicated by the noble Lord, the TUC has three principal concerns with regard to the proposed immigration reform. First, it thinks that licences to provide work permits should be restricted to people it calls good employers. Secondly, it is concerned about the rights of migrant domestic workers and thinks that those should be guaranteed in law to prevent abuse. Thirdly, it is seeking greater transparency in the intra-company transfer scheme, greater protection for those covered by the scheme and greater protection for the jobs of those who might be displaced by it.
On licensing arrangements, the TUC is very concerned that while employers who have contravened immigration or company laws can be prevented from getting a licence, employers with a very bad track record of abuse of their workers cannot be so prevented and may therefore recruit employees from abroad who, for a variety of reasons, are often, of course, more vulnerable to exploitation. Although the Home Secretary has provided some assurances that exploiters could have their licences removed subsequently, in the view of the TUC this really is a matter of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The TUC's equivalent in Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, reports that Australia's employer nomination scheme, which concerns the sponsorship of those coming to reside permanently in Australia, provides that to gain approval to sponsor a skilled worker from overseas, the employer must demonstrate, among other things, that it is an employer of good standing, which includes a record of compliance with both immigration and workplace relations law. Under the Australian regional sponsored migration scheme, which allows employers in regional areas to sponsor skilled workers where no labour is available locally, the employer must demonstrate among other things a record of compliance with workplace relations laws. An equivalent requirement in the UK should be introduced.
The TUC feels strongly about migrant domestic workers. During the summer, the TUC and others welcomed the Home Secretary's assurances that the status that migrant domestic workers were granted in 1997 would remain unaltered. It was then disappointed to learn that, under the proposed rules, the reasons for retaining the 1997 status would be ignored in the case of migrant domestic workers in diplomatic households. The new rules will leave them more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers, who may moreover enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution. The Home Office has agreed to issue an administrative instruction to preserve the route to settlement for those workers as part of the Government's commitment to ensure that all existing rights for overseas domestic workers are preserved until they can be reviewed two years after the introduction of the points-based system and when the anti-trafficking strategy has been properly road-tested.
However, this is not felt to be a sufficiently satisfactory solution, because such workers' right to change employers and to renew will not be specifically included as rights. This needs to be addressed. Being unable to leave an abusive employer without breaching the Immigration Rules leaves diplomatic domestic workers especially vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. Finding alternative employment in a diplomatic mission where the worker has already been abused is not a realistic option; and putting the agreed limited safeguard in an administrative instruction is not sufficiently sustainable, because it could easily be lost either through administrative error or deliberate government policy. For these reasons, the rights of migrant domestic workers to escape abusive employers without being further disadvantaged need to be set out in law.
I turn finally to intra-company transfers. The TUC believes that there should be more transparency. The names of sponsors, the number of certificates of sponsorship—especially under the ICT scheme—and the numbers accepted and rejected should be published, as is the practice in Ireland. This could help to strengthen confidence in the ICT system, which according to the TUC and its affiliates is creating resentment and concern in some workplaces. It is also believed that workers brought into the UK under the ICT scheme should have greater protection; for example, the wage level set out on the sponsorship certificate should be made available to the individual being sponsored. At present, this is not a requirement. Complaints from colleagues of the TUC in India already suggest that companies are not paying the rate shown on the sponsorship certificate to employees brought into the UK under the ICT system. Some way needs to be found to ensure that individual ICT scheme workers know that the wage they are being paid is correct and that they have some means of enforcing it.
Workers brought in under the ICT scheme should not be allowed to opt out from the 48-hour limit on working hours under the working time directive, as they are not in a position to refuse to work long hours when their employer could send them back to their source country.
For all those reasons, it is felt that the new proposals should be further discussed. The TUC also states that it in general supports the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association briefing on the changes proposed. It hopes that agreement can be reached on an alternative or adjusted way forward.