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Clause 1 - Director of Labour Market Enforcement

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 27th October 2015.

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To ensure that the functions of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement are exercised for the purpose of protecting those vulnerable to labour market exploitation and to make this explicit on the face of the Bill.

I preface my remarks on amendment 55 by indicating that Labour supports a director of labour market enforcement, provided that the purpose of the director is effective enforcement of labour standards and that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to that end.  That is the in principle position. With that, there should be no overlap with or merging into inspectorate or immigration enforcement functions. Part of the Bill and the Government’s associated consultation document suggests that the role is a director of labour market enforcement in name but not in design. The aim of amendment 55 is to resolve that issue.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the functions of the director of labour market enforcement are exercised for the purpose of protecting those vulnerable to labour market exploitation and to make that explicit in the Bill. I will not go through the wording unless that is necessary. It is proposed that the director will report to the Home Secretary and to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. That is welcome, but the position is being created via an Immigration Bill sponsored by the Home Office. Therefore, that concern, and particularly the overlap between immigration enforcement and labour market enforcement, gives rise to the amendment.

Immigration enforcement threatens the success of labour inspection. A better approach to reducing illegal working is effectively to enforce labour standards, thereby reducing the demand for illegal workers, who are more vulnerable to being exploited due to their irregular immigration status. The OSCE has said:

“A rising challenge to effective labour inspection is an increasingly widespread imposition of measures that compel labour inspectors to conduct immigration enforcement activity as part of their workplace inspection agenda.”

That is the concern that we have about the Bill—hence, amendment 55.

The International Labour Organisation said:

“the primary duty of labour inspectors is to protect workers and not to enforce immigration law.”

Other countries have experienced the dangers of merging those two functions. For example, research in the Netherlands shows that dual labour inspection priorities to identify, on the one hand, undocumented workers, and, on the other hand, victims of trafficking have negative impacts on the uncovering of trafficking cases. There are two reasons for that. One is that victims of trafficking are too scared to come forward and the second is that labour inspectors fail to identify them. In the Dutch research, there is a classic example of that, involving an individual who was trafficked into commercial cleaning in the Netherlands. Labour inspectors came to his workplace on many occasions, but he did not come forward; in fact, he claimed not to work in the establishment rather than come forward and be identified as an employee. For that reason, he was missed by the inspectors. As I say, this is a classic example of its type.

It is not just in the Netherlands where there is such evidence. In the USA, there is now a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, the purpose of which is to ensure that immigration control does not interfere with the protection of workers’ rights. For example, when the Wages and Hours Directorate investigates a case of unpaid wages, its officials must not ask for immigration documents. So there is a clear separation of roles, and the fact that workers’ rights are protected in the USA regardless of immigration status prevents retaliation and intimidation by employers, who could otherwise threaten to report undocumented workers if they exercised their labour rights. Our position is that in order to tackle labour exploitation effectively, there  must be a strict firewall between immigration control and labour inspection. That offers the best prospect of success for this director of labour market enforcement.

We have some questions for the Minister, and I will just run quickly through them; he may be able to pick up on them in his remarks. First, how will the director of labour market enforcement prioritise non-compliance in the labour market when non-compliance constitutes a range of offences in relation to requirements set out under the labour market legislation, and what assurances are in place to ensure that the work of the director will prioritise the protection of vulnerable workers from abuse and exploitation? Secondly, what overlap will the director’s consideration of non-compliance have with the work of the Home Office to control immigration and identify undocumented workers? Thirdly, what is the intended overlap between the twin aims of tackling the undercutting of British workers by undocumented workers and addressing worker exploitation, and how does the Minister see those two aims being achieved in unison?

I have set out the principal reasons why we have tabled the amendment. It may be helpful at this stage, Mr Bone, if I indicate that although we will not push a number of amendments to a vote, we will push this one to a vote. I hope that is helpful.