Short-term visas

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 4:30 pm, 5th March 2019

I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for introducing the new clause and giving us further opportunity to consider the critical matter of protecting the rights of migrant workers.

New clause 57 raises an important issue and I appreciate the intention behind it. As I indicated, I share the hon. Member’s concern that overseas workers—indeed, all workers—should be safe from abusive employment practices. Although I sympathise with the sentiment behind the new clause, I do not think it would be appropriate to change the Bill in the way proposed, for reasons I will explain.

First, it presumes that the employment practices for the sectors mentioned in the new clause are the same as the sectors currently licensed by the GLAA. They are not. The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 applies only to the agricultural, shellfish gathering, and food packaging and processing sectors, as that employment method is particular to those sectors. While gangmasters may be used in some cases, the practice is not prevalent in the supply of labour in the sectors covered by this new clause. In some sectors, such as construction, many workers are self-employed and in others workers are recruited directly, such as with people employed to do cleaning work.

If this new clause were to be passed, the consequence would be that many thousands of extra businesses—potentially every café or care home—would have to register as a gangmaster, with considerable expense but potentially little benefit. The new clause would in effect extend the scope of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to construction, cleaning, care or hospitality work, but only where that work is undertaken by EEA or Swiss nationals, and only where those individuals have come by that work through a particular route. That restriction does not sit comfortably in the existing regime, which defines scope through work sector and not through the characteristics of the individuals undertaking the work. The effect of the new clause would be to create a two-tier system, resulting in EEA and Swiss nationals receiving a greater degree of labour market protection.

The Government are fully committed to protecting the rights of migrant workers and I reassure the hon. Lady that the Government are giving active and serious consideration to these matters. I hope to be able to say more on that in the coming weeks. As I set out at length in earlier sittings, it is of the highest importance that everyone working within our economy is safe and is treated fairly and with respect. I am proud of the Government’s track record on this issue, with the introduction of the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the further powers we have given to the GLAA. We will not be complacent.

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

The Immigration Act 2016 created a new power to extend statutory licensing of gangmasters to new commercial sectors by secondary legislation, so the proposed new clause is not necessary. Although I am loth to say it, this demonstrates yet again that we could make the changes through the immigration rules, which might provide a convenient route to do so. In deciding whether to extend gangmaster licensing, the Government would need clear evidence that that is the right course and would draw advice from the Director of Labour Market Enforcement. I hope that having further considered the wider impacts of this new clause and heard my assurance that the protection of migrant workers is at the forefront of the Government’s thinking, the hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw the proposed new clause.