The Health and Safety Executive and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) should have their resources increased to better protect vulnerable, low-skilled migrant workers, according to a government-commissioned report.
The Home Office's independent advisory committee on migration said that given the minimal chance of inspection and prosecution there is little incentive for rogue employers to comply with labour laws.
“Penalties – either financial or reputational (naming and shaming) – are either little used or not strong enough,” says the report, The growth of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK, from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
There are “gaps” in the protection of all workers, according to the report published on 22 July, but notes that migrant workers are, for a number of reasons, more vulnerable to exploitation than British workers.
In the comprehensive report, which examines a range of issues related to the economic and social impact of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs, the committee calls for more collaborative working among enforcement agencies.
"Unscrupulous activity surrounding payment of overtime, income taxes, National Insurance contributions, holiday pay and adherence to health and safety and other legislation was commonplace in the food production and processing sectors,” the report says.
It continues: “While we did see evidence of employment rights being enforced, we question how extensive the enforcement is and whether the resources devoted to enforcement are sufficient. Enforcement bodies, such as the GLA, the HSE and the EASI [the Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate], should have the effectiveness of their enforcement activity increased through further resourcing."
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show in 2013 there were 2.1m people from overseas working in low skilled occupations. Of these, 1.2m were born outside of the EU.
Professor Sir David Metcalf CBE, chair of the MAC, said: “Our flexible labour market has served us well. But vulnerable low-skilled workers, whether British or foreign, need protection.
“There is incomplete compliance with and enforcement of labour regulations, and regulatory resources and penalties are inadequate. A typical employer can expect a compliance visit just once in 250 years and a prosecution once in a million years.”
The report also echoed calls from the Labour Party and a number of trade unions to expend the role of the GLA into other sectors of the economy that employ large numbers of low-skilled migrant workers, such as construction and social care.
Research commissioned in 2006 by HSE found migrant workers may experience higher levels of workplace accidents, are more likely to work long hoursand shifts and to have a limited understanding of health and safety.
The report also found that contributory factors included a lack of English language skills and that migrants are more likely to take up work in sectors in whcih they have not been trained or had experience working in.
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