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Consequential etc provision

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 3:00 pm, 26th February 2019

I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton for giving us the opportunity to consider two important issues: the protection of migrant workers and the opportunities that are open to them. Amendment 20 concerns the protection of workers’ rights. I appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment, and I do not believe there is any real difference between the hon. Gentleman and me on this issue. It is of the highest importance that everyone working in our economy is safe, and is treated fairly and with respect. I am proud of the Government’s track record in this area, with the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the further powers we have given to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. We will not be complacent on the matter.

Let me be very clear that migrant workers in the UK are entitled to all the protections of UK law while they are here, whether that is the minimum wage, health and safety legislation, working conditions, maternity and paternity arrangements, the right to join a trade union, the right to strike, statutory rights to holiday pay and sick pay or any of the other myriad protections in UK law for workers. Those protections apply to those who are in the UK on work visas every bit as much as they do to the resident workforce. That is true of migrant workers who are here under the current immigration system and those who may come in future under the new one.

In the future system, those who come under the skilled worker route will be taking up professional occupations and will be sponsored by their employer, so the Home Office will have a relationship with their employer. The Home Office may well visit and inspect the employer, and the Government will take very seriously any suggestion that the worker is not benefiting from every employment right to which they are entitled. Migrant workers who come to the UK under the temporary worker route may be doing jobs that are more vulnerable to exploitation. That is why a feature of that route is that migrant workers are not tied to one employer and may move around the labour market if they are unhappy, for whatever reason, in their employment. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the temporary worker route will be open to nationals from countries that pose a low immigration risk. We do not expect that route to be used by those who may, unfortunately, be economically desperate enough to make themselves vulnerable to exploitation.

As we have heard, there is one sector in which we will operate a special scheme under which workers will, to some extent, be tied to a particular type of work, and that is the agricultural sector. The independent Migration Advisory Committee recognised the sector’s unique reliance on short-term migrant labour, and the Government have accepted that argument. We are currently catering for that through a seasonal worker pilot, which comes into operation shortly. I will say a bit more about that when I address new clause 20, but let me deal first with the protection issues.

The potential for exploitation of the pilot was the recent subject of a thoughtful and considered debate in Westminster Hall, secured by Alex Norris. In that debate, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd—he responded to the debate because I was in this Committee taking evidence—set out the careful work that had gone into the design of the pilot scheme, and the ongoing liaison with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority to ensure that migrant workers are protected. I suspect members of this Committee were present in this Committee rather than in that debate, and I urge them to review the principles of the pilot and the protections that will be applied, as set out by my ministerial colleague.

On the requirement in amendment 20 to consult trade unions, I appreciate that trade unions have a unique perspective on work-related immigration, and they will understandably want to protect the rights of their existing members in the domestic workforce. As part of our ongoing engagement following the publication of the immigration White Paper, we are consulting some trade unions about the proposed future system. However, I do not see how the amendment could practically be made to work. As I have explained, we do not propose to introduce sectoral working visas other than in agriculture, and MAC specifically advised against doing so. Our proposed work routes—the skilled worker route and the temporary worker route—are, in combination, open to the full range of occupations and professions. That means that the Government would be committed to consulting hundreds of trade unions and representative bodies every time a change was required to the immigration rules, and that would be unworkable.

The second half of amendment 20 would require the Secretary of State to publish an impact assessment on workers’ rights for any future work-related immigration arrangements, and I do not believe that that is necessary. As I have said, migrant workers who come to the UK will be subject to the full protections that already exist for every worker—regardless of their nationality—who is employed by a UK employer. Since the statutory workplace employment rights and protections will be the same for domestic and migrant workers, it is unlikely that an impact assessment would be necessary or add to the understanding of the future immigration system.

I turn to new clause 20. Although I appreciate what the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton seeks to achieve, I believe that, once again, he and the Government are in the same place and the new clause is not necessary. The Government fully understand the importance of our food and farming industry, and the sector’s significant reliance on seasonal labour. We appreciate that farming is a long-term endeavour and that the sector places great emphasis on certainty when it comes to workforce planning. That is particularly the case as we look to the design of our future immigration system. As I set out earlier, the temporary worker route will be open to nationals from countries that pose a low immigration risk. That route will support seasonal employment of all kinds across all sectors, including our farmers and growers. The route will offer considerably more generous terms than the proposals in the new clause; that includes not tying migrants to a specific employer.

We intend to go further, however. As the Committee will be aware, the Migration Advisory Committee identified agriculture as a special case, and as the only sector that is deserving of special treatment. The Government have accepted that advice.