Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) (IB 21)

Immigration Bill 

Introduction

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has 52 affiliated unions, representing almost six million members, who work in a wide variety of sectors and occupations. We welcome the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee on the Immigration Bill as we have serious concerns that the Bill will encourage irregular employment of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, and the exploitative conditions that often accompanies this form of work, increase discrimination against BME workers and turn public sector staff into border guards.

The TUC believes that public concern about undercutting can only properly be addressed when undocumented workers have the legal right to work and a strong voice through a union to claim their rights at work. This would allow all workers to claim decent treatment and fair pay. Instead of this, however, the Bill will fuel divisions between workers, and tensions in society.

Criminalising work and wages

The TUC is concerned by the Bill’s measures to make it a criminal offence to work without leave to remain, or beyond the restrictions of a visa, and classifying wages earned in such employment as the proceeds of crime. We believe this will result firstly in an inequitable situation where those with a legal right to be in the country could face a sentence of up to 51 weeks in prison simply for working slightly beyond the restrictions on their visa. This is particularly likely to affect students who, in most cases, are only permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours a week.

Criminalising undocumented migrants simply makes it harder for bad bosses to be found out. Undocumented migrants are unlikely to report an exploitative employer to the authorities when they know they are likely to face a criminal charge for being found out. Bad employers can also threaten to report undocumented workers to the authorities if they complain about bad treatment or try to join a union and claim their rights.

This fuels unregulated employment, as employers are able to employ undocumented workers informally on a cheaper rate and on worse terms and conditions than workers they would employ legally. Encouraging unregulated working not only increases exploitation but is also a drain on the economy, as workers are not as able to contribute to taxation through their wages. Furthermore, forcing one section of the low-paid workforce to accept worse conditions has a negative impact on terms and conditions for all workers.

Undocumented migrants should be provided with employment rights separate from their immigration status so they can report bad employers and be treated on equal terms with local workers. This principle is enshrined in Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states ‘everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment’.

Director of labour market enforcement

The new Director of labour market enforcement must work closely with unions in order to accurately identify and tackle abuses in the labour market. 

 

The TUC is concerned that in the UK migrant workers are often hired on worse contracts and pay than local workers, allowing bad bosses to use them to undercut other workers which simply fuels concern about immigration.  Such abuse can only be tackled comprehensively through the extension of collective bargaining arrangements and rights to representation for unions because inspections and acting on complaints will only capture a sample of problems, whereas collective bargaining and union representation are continuous processes.  The law on employment status should also be reformed to ensure that migrant workers and other vulnerable groups do not lose out on basic rights at work.

 

It is imperative that any centralisation of the work of the Employment Agency Standards (EAS) Inspectorate, HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority does not reduce the powers or remit of each agency. The TUC was concerned that the scope and powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority were reduced in 2013.  In order to tackle exploitation the government should instead expand the resources of these agencies. It is vital that the GLA licensing scheme which has successfully improved working conditions for migrant workers in agriculture and fresh food processing is retained and indeed extended to cover more sectors with vulnerable employment such as care, construction and cleaning.

These employment enforcement bodies must also not be used as a means of immigration control but rather be neutral agencies to which vulnerable workers, whether documented or not, are able to report exploitation and seek redress.

 

English language requirement for public authorities

The TUC believes the Bill takes the wrong approach to improving English language skills at work. Rather than introducing penalties, the government should support employers and trade unions to deliver workplace based English language classes, for example, through Unionlearn. A recent study by the European Commission highlighted that English language classes delivered by trade unions in Leeds were important to enable migrant workers to improve their performance at work. [1]

The TUC believes measures in the Bill to require public authorities to ensure each person who works in a customer facing role speaks fluent English are likely to increase discrimination. Unions already have considerable experience of dealing with disciplinary and grievance situations in relation to discrimination against workers whose language ability is questioned because of their accents.

The TUC questions the necessity of this provision as the government has not produced evidence to suggest those in customer facing roles in public authorities do not have an adequate level of English. In fact, evidence from unions shows adequate English language skills are already a requirement to be employed in customer facing roles in the public sector.

Requirements for document checks by landlords and banks

The TUC has concerns that the Bill’s requirement for landlords to check the immigration status of tenants and banks to check the immigration status of current account holders will encourage everyday discrimination against anyone who doesn’t ‘look’ British. These document checks will make it harder for migrants and BME groups to have access to essential services and turn staff in banking and housing into border guards. It is already too difficult for people - especially young people - to open back accounts, including the children of British citizens living abroad.

Closing off support for failed asylum seekers and their children

The TUC is opposed to government proposals to close off support currently available to failed asylum seekers via Section 4(1) and 4(2) of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act and for asylum seekers with children via Section 95 of the 1999 Act. While asylum seekers and their children remain in the country, local authorities have a duty of care towards them as stipulated in the Children’s Act (1989) and the Human Rights Act (1998). The government’s decision to withdraw support from asylum seekers will place additional costs on local authorities at a time when they are already spending £3.364bn on children in need of care and are suffering cuts dictated by the government’s austerity programme.

 

The TUC believes the government must reverse cuts to local authority budgets so there are resources for them to fulfil their duty of care to failed asylum seekers and their children.  We believe asylum seekers should be allowed to work so that they are able to provide for themselves and their families adequately and contribute to society.

 

We believe these proposals will increase poverty amongst asylum seekers and their children which is already high. These proposals are also likely to compel more asylum seekers into unregulated employment to survive, fuelling the exploitation and undercutting discussed above.

 

Immigration skills levy

The TUC is a longstanding advocate of a levy on all employers to increase investment in skills.  We welcome proposals which will drive up employer investment in skills.  However, this levy proposal should be considered in light of the government’s announcement in the summer budget to introduce an Apprenticeship levy on employers.  We believe there should be an integrated levy system to ensure there is synergy; having two levies operate alongside each other could cause additional confusion and increased bureaucracy. 

 

The TUC has welcomed the government’s announcement in the summer budget to introduce an Apprenticeship levy on employers.  The TUC believes this levy should be extended to as many employers as possible, both to increase employer investment and participation in delivering skills and to avoid a two-tier funding system emerging. There is a danger this could lead to increased tensions between larger employers who contribute to the levy and those employers who are excluded from the scope of the levy.

 

We believe that levies can incentivise long term investment by employers in skills which is needed to address skills gaps in the economy and prevent the recruitment of migrants being used as a substitute for training resident workers.

 

We believe a levy on all employers provides a more comprehensive way to deal with investment in training than the proposed skills levy targeted at employers that recruit via Tier 2 only.  Furthermore, applying a levy on all employers avoids appearing to penalise the recruitment of migrants and add to the stigma migrant workers face. 

 

October 2015

 

Prepared 27th October 2015