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Clause 2 - Labour market enforcement strategy

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North 10:45 am, 27th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I rise to support amendments 56 to 58 and 62 to 64, but I will focus on the first three of those amendments lest I test the Committee’s patience.

Clause 2 is perhaps the only clause that my Scottish National party colleagues and I fully support. I wish that were the case for the remainder of the Bill, but I am afraid it is downhill from here. It is an outrage that we are talking about modern day slavery. The director of labour market enforcement, first and foremost, should be used to take action against exploitative employers and to protect workers from being abused and taken advantage of. Nice chap though he is, there is not much on which I agree with the Minister for Immigration on this Bill—or anything else for that matter. However, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with him that it is unacceptable for any employer to recruit staff whom they think they can exploit because those employees are less likely or less able to complain about working conditions. It is a scandal that we still have to talk about slavery and exploitation in modern-day Britain. However, that is the experience facing many workers, particularly migrant workers, when they clock in each morning. I am sure that we have all been appalled, upset and angered by the frequent newspaper reports on the level of exploitation that some migrant workers have faced and, truth be told, we could possibly be accused of not responding appropriately or quickly enough.

I hope that the recruitment of a new director of labour market enforcement is the first step in addressing the plight of many migrant workers. It should be welcomed that we have already started to talk about the work that the director will undertake, and the strategy in clause 2  outlines the action that will be taken to eradicate modern day slavery and exploitation in the workplace. There is currently a worrying lack of information on the level of exploitation faced by migrant workers. We do not know how many are being exploited. We have little evidence of the physical exploitation that they face, and we have little insight into the activities of gangmasters.

Therefore, amendment 57, which is supported by Focus on Labour Exploitation among others, would allow us to gain a greater understanding of the challenges to operating successful, fair and effective labour market enforcement. An assessment of the risks will allow us to gain the appropriate level of evidence so that we can take action against rogue employers. The amendment details our vision for addressing the exploitation that can arise from illegal migrant working and the steps that should be taken to gather the required level of evidence. Amendment 58 would ensure that we can use the evidence that has been gathered to take an evidence-based approach to addressing worker exploitation. That is important, as it prevents any prejudice-based opinions or judgments from influencing what action should be taken.

During our evidence sessions last week, Caroline Robinson of Focus on Labour Exploitation said:

“The point about the protective purpose of the director is very important. For us, the core purpose of that role should be the protection of vulnerable workers and the prevention of exploitation. That has been at the centre of the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and has been part of its success. That authority, as we know, operates on a limited budget, so the resources are also of critical importance. On the role of the director of labour market enforcement and the labour market enforcement strategy, what most concerns us is the power of the director to hold control of the budgets, governance of those labour inspectorates and shifting budgets according to the strategy.”––[Official Report, Immigration Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2015; c. 27, Q54.]

She also raised the point that, along with the director, the inspectorate needs further resources to ensure that our position is comparable to that of other EU countries. At the moment we have just 0.9 inspectors per 100,000 workers.