Clause 8 - Offence of illegal working

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 3:45 pm, 27th October 2015

The hon. Lady adds another dimension to my argument that the clause makes those who are already in a precarious situation more vulnerable and open to exploitation. In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham mentioned the evidence given by Caroline Robinson from Focus on Labour Exploitation, which works directly with  victims of trafficking for labour exploitation and of which I am the trustee along with some Members from other parties.

FLEX has identified three drivers of labour exploitation. The first is the feeling among migrant workers that they deserve less or have fewer rights than UK citizens. The second is a lack of checks on labour standards in the workplace, including everything from health and safety to minimum wage enforcement. The third is a fear of officials, especially of immigration officials. The Bill makes each of those drivers worse, and clause 8 has a particular effect on the first and third factors.

First, on the rights of migrant workers, the clause puts the focus on immigration status as a condition of asserting labour rights. By criminalising the exploited worker, whether they are committing the offence of illegal working or not, they can be treated and threatened by a gangmaster as if they are. On the second driver, we have talked at length about a number of aspects of labour market enforcement. The Bill seems to reflect the Government’s desire to move further towards an intelligence-based approach to enforcement. Essential to that intelligence is whistleblowing. We need to ensure that we do nothing in the Bill to discourage exploited workers from coming forward and thereby give gangmasters another card to play. Sadly, the clause risks doing exactly that.

On the third driver of labour exploitation, the problem that we identified earlier—the overlap between labour market enforcement and immigration enforcement—is at the heart of the Bill. The clause gives undocumented workers another reason to be worried. The consequence is that labour exploitation is not rooted out and continues to be a pull factor for migration, which is against the Government’s policy objectives.

Mr Bone, I will take your advice. I will not ask the Minister to intervene, but I press him to share evidence from anywhere in the world that shows that the approach of criminalising workers, unlike many other aspects of the Bill with which we agree, assists in the policy objective that he outlined and we share.