Migrant Workers: Employment Rights — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 16th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 2:37 pm, 16th June 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the report by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, Vulnerable Migrant Workers: The Responsibility of Business, the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will be extended.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, the extension of licensing was considered by the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, following which the Government concluded that the way forward was to prioritise effective enforcement of the existing law, not to introduce new regulation. They are doing this through a campaign to raise workers' awareness of employment rights, the establishment of a single enforcement helpline and by strengthening the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate which regulates agencies in sectors not covered by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the steps which the Government have already taken. But I have a particular concern for those working in the domestic and cleaning industry, who are particularly vulnerable. If we take the European Union accession countries from 2004 and 2007, for example, something like 10 per cent work in waiting or catering and 9 per cent work as maids or cleaners. Does the Minister agree that there are particular vulnerabilities connected with these occupations which the GLA could usefully safeguard if its remit was extended to include them?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, I have no doubt that the GLA could do useful work if its remit was extended, but the noble and right reverend Lord will recognise that the GLA has been in existence for only four years. It has a very important sector to cover—shellfish and food production. It enforces as strongly as it can the requirements in that difficult sector. There are others to which it might direct its efforts in due course, but the noble and right reverend Lord will appreciate that the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate also has a role to play.

Photo of Lord Morris of Handsworth Lord Morris of Handsworth Labour

My Lords, will the Minister reassure the House that where labour is supplied through gangmasters the minimum wage applies and is being paid? Will he also give an assurance that where a gangmaster loses the right to supply labour he or she does not reappear in another part of the country pursuing exactly the same activity?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, I can certainly give a degree of reassurance to my noble friend about the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. It very recently brought a prosecution about the failure of a gangmaster to pay minimum wages. I also recognise my noble friend's additional point. I assure the House that the chief executive of the GLA is eager to ensure that it does its work thoroughly. We have every confidence that the GLA will enforce the law in the areas for which it is responsible.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority must first ensure the safety of workers and their freedom from exploitation. I am informed that more inspectors are needed to speed up the process of compliance. The authority also co-operates with HMRC to staunch the substantial loss of revenue through tax evasion and other tax frauds perpetrated by some gangmasters. How much tax has been recovered through the efforts of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority since its inception some four years ago?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a direct answer to that question, because it is not the major issue for the GLA. The major issue for the GLA is, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, effective action and enforcement of the law, remembering, of course, that it was set up after the horror story of Morecambe Bay. The GLA is working with great effectiveness. Its demand for additional inspectors, which involves additional resources, is based on an increasing amount of work. However, I cannot give the noble Lord an answer on his detailed point about tax recovery.

Photo of The Bishop of Bradford The Bishop of Bradford Bishop

My Lords, the church, not least in my region of Yorkshire and Humber, has played an essential part in supporting migrant workers, particularly those in rural areas, by providing social support, advice and information on rights, and access to healthcare. Will the GLA ensure that gangmasters and employers have a duty to make migrant workers aware of these services?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and applaud the work to which he alluded. We do not rely only on gangmasters to inform their workers. We are concerned to use authorities to give workers the chance to exert their rights in circumstances where they might otherwise be grievously exploited. We are setting up a helpline at the end of the summer for migrant workers who have cause for complaint or anxiety, allowing them direct contact with a government representative who can take action on his or her behalf.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

My Lords, I can confirm what the right reverend Prelate said. I have an interest in this matter as a grower and farmer. I use seasonal gang labour for flower cropping purposes. It is the responsibility above all of employers to make sure that people are employed on proper terms. However, the GLA appears to work well. How many successful prosecutions has it brought? Is the Minister satisfied that it is not performing a task which duplicates the inspection audits of multiple retailers and supermarkets, as well as of HMRC, which retains its own interest in this area?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, HMRC certainly retains an interest in this area, as do several other government agencies. I can cite a number of recent successful prosecutions sufficient for the GLA to feel that it is able to make demands for additional resources based on the success to which the noble Lord alluded. We are pleased with developments since the GLA was established in the areas for which it has direct responsibility. We are conscious that there are other areas where migrant labour can be exploited and are paying attention to strategies that could be developed there. The noble Lord is right that part of this issue behoves employers also to respond intelligently, responsibly and constructively.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the remit is sufficient to prevent, as far as is possible, another tragedy like Morecambe Bay? More generally, is not one problem that the immigrants, particularly those from east and central Europe, are having their expectations raised too high by gangmasters? Should that not be dealt with?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip)

My Lords, that may be the case, as it is obviously in the interests of gangmasters to raise those expectations. The noble Lord will also be aware of the Government's position on immigration, which operates as some control over these factors. Expectations can be based on the assumption that the minimum wage will be paid because that is the law of the land, and the GLA, together with other agencies, is responsible for insisting on that.