Effective regulation of the UK labour market is the only way to stop the exploitation of overseas domestic workers.

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Employment law expert calls for new strategy to combat modern slavery, in latest Policy Briefing

24 October 2016

We are pleased to announce the publication of our latest policy brief, in which employment law expert Professor Judy Fudge argues that the government’s policy on modern slavery has ‘backfired’ and that a new, centralized labour inspectorate must be established to tackle the problem.

Professor Fudge claims that, instead of offering migrant domestic workers greater protections, changes to the visa system have made it more difficult for them to stay and work in the UK, and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by their employers.

In the policy brief, Professor Fudge makes the case for a multipronged strategy designed to regulate the labour market, and outlines a series of recommendations, including:

  • the UK government’s ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention;
  • establishing a centralized and well-funded labour inspectorate; and
  • creating a firewall between immigration controls and the enforcement of labour rights.

The policy brief describes how the Conservative Government ignored the recommendation of James Ewins, a prominent barrister whom the government had appointed to conduct an independent evaluation of the impact of the tied visa on domestic workers, that the right of these workers to change employers be reinstated. Furthermore, the government also ignored the reports of several international and European human rights bodies that identified immigration controls of the type it was proposing to be part of the problem.

    Professor Fudge said, “The problem with the modern slavery approach to coercive forms of labour control is that it is embedded in the criminal law and is associated with strengthening border controls. … Effective regulation of the UK labour market is the only way to stop the exploitation of overseas domestic workers.”

     

    Effective regulation of the UK labour market is the only way to stop the exploitation of overseas domestic workers

     

    Currently, the enforcement of employment law in the UK is divided between four agencies, which will be working closely with the UK Border Force. This intermingling of the enforcement of labour standards and immigration controls will inevitably undermine the ability of the Gangmasters Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to enforce labour standards, since undocumented workers who are at risk of labour exploitation will be unwilling to come forward to report violations of labour standards if they fear that they will be penalized for ‘illegal working’.

    For this reason, Professor Fudge states, “it is critical to erect a firewall between the enforcement of labour standards and immigration controls.”

     

    It is critical to erect a firewall between the enforcement of labour standards and immigration controls

     

    She concludes by calling on the government to “consider much more systematically how best to tackle unacceptable forms of work, especially when migrant workers are involved, rather than simply invoking the criminal law, which tends to exacerbate, rather than resolve, the problem of labour exploitation”.

    The policy brief is the latest of over 100 such publications by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society (FLJS), which can be freely downloaded from our Publications pages.

    Download:

    Modern Slavery and Migrant Domestic Workers: The Politics of Legal Characterization 

    Professor Judy Fudge, Kent Law School