The TUC is very concerned that the Bill opens up a wide scope for increased exploitation and insecurity among not only European Union citizens in this country, but UK citizens abroad. To focus on the first part of your question, we are worried that the legislation, by removing EU rules on social security co-ordination, paves the way for the Government to bring in plans to restrict EU social security entitlements for EU citizens, such as jobseeker’s allowance.
We have also seen in the White Paper plans to bring in an immigration health surcharge on EU citizens. From a welfare point of view, we are very concerned that that will mean 3.8 million citizens facing increased poverty and having to pay health charges. The TUC absolutely opposes the immigration health surcharge both for EU citizens and for all migrant workers.
Also, in the context of the Brexit negotiations, it seems reckless to suggest that we will introduce restrictions on EU citizens claiming social security entitlements here in the future when we know that more than 1 million British people live in the EU, many of whom now claim pensions, or will do soon. It is expected that EU countries may well reciprocate, with restrictions on British citizens abroad claiming sickness insurance and unemployment insurance and on claiming their pensions abroad, which is obviously a huge injustice. People have paid all their lives in one country and expect to be able to claim in another. We are very worried about the increasing social insecurity and the welfare repercussions for British people abroad.
On the second half of your question, on exploitation, we have said that the Bill will not only make life harder for EU citizens and workers in this country, but have the effect of making conditions worse for all workers. We say that because, by ending EU rules on free movement, and the right to change employers freely that comes with that, the Bill also paves the way for a more restrictive work visa regime, as the Government outlined in the immigration White Paper. What we have seen of those proposals is a recipe for increasing worker vulnerability.
We know that time-limited visas of the kind the Government have said they want to introduce—specifically the 12-month time-limited visa for low-skilled workers—would increase worker vulnerability exponentially by limiting people’s legal status in a country to their employment. If workers have a limited time to move from one employer to another, we know that will be an incentive for them to stay in abusive forms of employment, because of the difficulty of getting another legal form of employment.
If workers leave an abusive employer and cannot find another, legal form of employment, they become undocumented workers and, under the terms of the Immigration Act 2016, they are committing a criminal offence by working. That means that if they are then abused in an undocumented form of employment and go to the authorities, they could face a jail term and deportation as a result of reporting abuse.
We at the TUC are absolutely opposed to those measures, because they just encourage exploitation. As I said, they make it easier for bad employers to use irregular migrants or those with question marks about their immigration status, who accept lower conditions and undercut UK workers on terms and conditions and on pay. We already see that happening in agriculture, distribution and some sections of cleaning and care. The Bill will make it easier for that exploitation to happen, which is why we are calling on MPs to oppose it.