Lords call for Immigration Bill to give asylum seekers right to work and protect domestic workers
On Monday the Immigration Bill will start to be debated by the House of Lords select committee.
As I have blogged previously, the Bill contains a number of threats for workers. It will introduce measures to criminalise undocumented workers that will make it easier for bad bosses to exploit migrants and other vulnerable workers.
My colleague Sally Brett blogged today about union concerns with the measures the government now plans to introduce in the Bill to change the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority into a more ‘flexible’ body that reports to a newly created post of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement. There is a danger this may reduce requirements on employers in sectors such as food processing or agriculture to be licensed and lead to funds to enforce labour standards being reduced further than they have already, also making it less likely exploitative employers will be caught.
Some hope is offered, however, by some of the amendments that Labour, Liberal Democrat and Crossbench Lords have tabled to try to offset the worst aspects of the Immigration Bill. Key amongst them is amendment 134 which calls for asylum seekers to have the right to work after six months.
The TUC has long campaigned for asylum seekers to have the right to work, which is denied to the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers in the UK.
This contrasts sharply with Germany where asylum seekers have the right to work after three months – something employers as well as unions called for, so they could make use of their skills and aid integration. The President of the National Union of Employers in Germany has said:
“It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that [asylum seekers] are able to integrate quickly into the job market.”
All workers in Britain would benefit from asylum seekers being given the right to work, rather than being made to subsist on £36 a week benefits, as they are now. Many asylum seekers are forced to take jobs in the informal economy just to survive. Here they frequently face exploitative conditions and are used by employers to undercut local workers. If asylum seekers were given the right to work they would be able to take up legal employment and be able to report bad bosses to the authorities without fear of prosecution.
Public support for accepting asylum seekers would also grow if asylum seekers if they were able to become our fellow workmates, working on the same terms and conditions as everyone else and contributing their skills to the economy, rather than being forced to survive on benefits.
At the moment, unfortunately, migrants often end up working in low skill jobs, despite having skills and qualifications. This is partly due to a lack of skills recognition, but it is also because employers aren’t creating enough decent jobs. This is also affecting British workers too. TUC research shows 1 in 3 UK graduates can’t find graduate level jobs.
Owing to the fact Britain has the lowest level of labour market regulation in the EU, we have also seen too many migrant workers and refugees not being employed on equal terms to other workers. They are disproportionately employed in poorly paid jobs on precarious contracts. More and more British workers are facing similarly bleak prospects with almost a million of workers are on zero hours contracts.
That’s why the TUC has called for greater regulation of rights, proper enforcement of these rights (and so more funding for bodies like the Gangmasters Licensing Authority) and employers to work with unions to create decent jobs that pay a living wage.
Unions play a key role in informing migrants about their rights (see the TUC Working in the UK guide in 17 languages) and bargaining with employers to claim them.
Protection for workers from exploitation would also be provided by amendment 133 to the Immigration Bill which would allow domestic workers to change employer. My colleague Sean Bamford has blogged about the vulnerability of migrant domestic workers in the UK who are currently not able to change employer, despite sometime suffering terrible abuse. The TUC has been campaigning for the domestic worker visa rules to be changed to allow domestic workers to change employers, as well as calling for other protections.
We are calling on Lords to support amendments 133 and 134 to the Immigration Bill next week.
These amendments send an important signal to the government that it is employment protections for vulnerable workers that is needed, rather than toxic anti-migrant rhetoric which spurred the creation of the nasty Immigration Bill in the first place. This only leads to division amongst workers, and worse conditions for all.