We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 2 - Labour market enforcement strategy

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 27th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:30 am, 27th October 2015

I am grateful for that intervention, which is another example from the evidence that we heard last week about resources. Unless we tackle the resources issue head on, all that will be achieved is the creation of a director without any real powers to carry out the functions, which I think everybody accepts need to be enforced and enhanced. In a sense, if we try to do more with less, services are jeopardised and, in truth, the vulnerable workers suffer and we will not succeed in reducing the pull factor for illegal migration because exploitation will not be uncovered and penalised.

By way of example, the number of Gangmasters Licensing Authority investigations into the illegal activities of gangmasters dropped from 134 in 2011 to 68 in 2014, and prosecutions were down from 19 in 2010 to three in 2014. I accept that underlying this reduction will be some intelligence-led work, but those figures are stark and they underline the general point made by the witnesses last week, namely, that the concern about labour market enforcement is not so much about the agencies and the enforcement powers as about the fact that the resources are simply not there to allow for investigations and action to be taken very frequently. Unless that problem is addressed head-on, there is the danger that all we will create is a director who does not actually carry out the enhanced functions that it is hoped will be carried out.

Sticking with the GLA itself, its budget, of course, has been cut by 20% since 2010, so we are in an environment where the enforcement agencies are already suffering quite significant cuts. It means that the GLA regulates labour in a £100 billion sector with a budget of 0.004% of that figure.

I have some questions that I hope the Minister will be able to address in his reply. On page 8 of the Government’s consultation document, “Labour market exploitation: improving enforcement”, it states that there has been

“a shift from abuses of employment regulation towards increasingly organised criminal activity engaged in labour market exploitation.”

That shift has occurred during the past 10 years. But what is the evidential basis for that assertion? In other words, that is the shift of abuse from, as it were, lower-level routine abuse to increasingly organised criminal activity. Linked to that is another question. Does the Minister agree that if we do not enforce employment legislation effectively at the lower end of abuse—if you like, minimum wage, health and safety and so on—we will create conditions for higher levels of abuse to develop. So, as I say, where is the evidence to support that assertion? And if we abandon the lower end or do not put resource into it, do we not run the risk of creating conditions in which unscrupulous employers will get away with whatever they want?

Amendments 65 and 66 would include the functions relating to health and safety at work and child labour within the remit of the director. May I just be clear about the spirit in which amendment 65 was tabled? It aims to explore the thinking behind the division of functions here, and to understand why all the functions are not brought together under this director, while also recognising—as we do—the work that the Health and Safety Executive is currently undertaking. So, amendment 65 was tabled in that spirit of properly understanding the Bill’s limited remit. The health and safety at work aspects of the Bill speak for themselves; I think that the child labour functions are enforced by local authorities.

Earlier this morning, the Minister said that the purpose of the Bill was to cover the whole spectrum of labour market enforcement, and therefore the ownership of the HSE and of the legislation to deal with child labour were obvious. There may have been a good deal of thinking behind that, but it would be useful through this exercise to understand that thinking properly, because the exclusion of those functions from the remit of the director of labour market enforcement could have an influence on the issue addressed by amendment 55, namely, the primary purpose of the director. Why is the HSE excluded and what is the thinking behind that exclusion?

Of course, there is also a budgetary consideration. The budget of the three labour inspection agencies covered in part 1 amounts to just over £14 million. That is compared with the £81 million for the Health and Safety Executive, which adopts a cross-labour market role. If the aim is to cover the whole spectrum and there are already resource considerations—of course there are—why do these provisions not cover the whole spectrum and leave out the health and safety and child labour aspects?

Amendments 63 and 64 aim to ensure that labour market offences committed against all workers are included within the scope of the director of labour market enforcement’s work, irrespective of immigration status. I will try to explain our concern clearly. Trafficking offences, as we understand it, are outside the remit of the Bill, save where they touch on the role of workers. That makes sense on one level because we would not expect the director of labour market enforcement to be looking at trafficking offences outside the employment  or labour context. The problem as we see it—which may simply require clarification or may require amendment—is that the definition of “worker” within the Bill is then not wide enough to cover all those who may be in the labour market, including undocumented victims of trafficking. Perhaps there is a clear explanation; there may be a simple amendment. We follow the logic of the scheme, but we are concerned that the definition of “worker” is in fact too narrow and will leave some who it is probably the intention of the Government to include outside the scope of the protection. The amendment is put forward in that spirit.