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Clause 2 - Labour market enforcement strategy

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

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Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 10:30 am, 27th October 2015

I rise to support the Opposition amendments, which will be helpful in clarifying the role and duties of the director of labour market enforcement. I will also echo some of the comments made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras.

The creation of the role is welcome, as my hon. Friends have said, but if the director is to have real influence and impact, they need to be involved across enforcement of labour market standards and not confined to a narrow area. The director should be able to take the lead on issues of labour market enforcement, to command respect from employers and be a strong advocate for compliance and tougher enforcement. The Opposition amendments are designed to make that happen. Amendment 56, for example, would require the new director to set out the resources that are needed for effective labour market enforcement.

Witnesses told the Committee that the problems with the immigration system are due not to a lack of powers but to a lack of resources, which undermines enforcement. The Government can introduce all the legislation they like, but criminal employers will not bat an eyelid unless they believe that there is an actual chance of their door being kicked down. That chance is incredibly low right now. The UK has less than one inspector per 100,000 workers, which is one of the worst ratios in Europe. The director should be able to tell the Government when they are not doing enough, and amendment 57 would introduce a clear duty to examine and identify where enforcement is failing and where there are obstacles to effective enforcement, thereby helping to identify where further resources are needed. There are currently  too few data on the scale of labour market exploitation, and the director could and should be able to fill that gap.

I am also concerned that, as currently defined, the director’s focus appears too targeted on illegal workers, rather than on the people who exploit them. As I mentioned earlier, that is a rather counterproductive approach that addresses the symptoms rather than the causes of exploitation. The Modern Slavery Act 2015, as we can all agree, had a welcome focus on victims. Unfortunately, that is not the focus in this Bill. We should never forget that many illegal workers face violence and extortion and that, no matter what their immigration status, these people are victims. That is why amendments 56 and 57 would specify that the director’s remit should include remedies for victims and amendment 64 would guarantee that all labour market offences committed against workers were within the director’s remit.

Without those amendments, there is a danger that the director’s role will come to be seen as that of an inquisitor, rather than one that leads in driving up labour market standards and addressing systemic problems in the market, thereby undermining the director’s potential to influence change. I hope that the Minister agrees that our amendments would give the director the remit and the stature necessary to be effective. I look forward to hearing his comments.