Clause 8 - Offence of illegal working

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:45 pm, 27th October 2015

I speak in support of my hon. and learned Friend. It is fundamentally wrong to make the employee a criminal—it makes no sense. I have not been convinced by any of the witnesses we have heard or any of the evidence that I have seen that this is the right way to achieve the Government’s objectives.

My main concern is that the measure will compound exploitation. I would like to quote Caroline Robinson, one of our witnesses, from FLEX—Focus on Labour Exploitation—who put the three issues more succinctly than I can. She said:

“First, we think that people will be fearful of coming forward to be referred into the UK national referral mechanism as victims of trafficking…The second reason is that we know that traffickers use the threat of deportation, removal and reporting to immigration officials in order to abuse and exploit workers…The third reason is something that was raised a lot on Second Reading, namely the criminalisation of trafficked persons. Although the Home Secretary set out the statutory defence, which is in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, it is quite narrow in its terms. The schedules exclude a  number of offences for the victims of trafficking, such as aggravated criminal damage, but if I was to leave the building in which I was held I would no longer be covered by the statutory defence in the Modern Slavery Act.”––[Official Report, Immigration Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2015; c. 24-25, Q50.]

My biggest concern is that the measure will stop whistleblowers. How will we identify bad employers if the very people who can give us that evidence are too scared to come forward for fear of being criminalised? It is not only bad employers that could be overlooked, but health and safety risks that could impact on a number of employees.

I am pleased about the Modern Slavery Act, which is a good and strong piece of legislation. I am also very pleased that the Minister has made it clear that people are protected under the Act if they are trafficked into the country. If they are used as a slave, they are exploited. However, I would like clarification from the Minister about how someone will be dealt with if their status shifts. For example, if someone was trafficked into the country and forced into slavery, but then managed to escape and became an illegal worker, would they be protected because at the start of their journey they were protected under the Modern Slavery Act, meaning that they would be treated as a victim, or would they be criminalised because, at the end of their journey, they were an illegal worker? What happens the opposite way round? If a person comes to the UK as an undocumented worker and is then exploited by their employer, at what point would they be protected if, having come to the country illegally as a worker, they were then used as a slave?