Migrant Workers

 I was a member of the  First Delegated Legislation Committee which met on Thursday 12 January 2012   to  consider and approve the “Accession (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) (Amendment) Regulations 2011   relating to extending restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers for a further two years. Here is what I said in the debate  and the response by the Home Office Immigration Minister Damian Green.

9.8 am 

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):  The Minister referred to what happens in other European Union countries. The vast majority of Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers go to southern Europe, particularly Spain and, clearly, they will be affected by the downturn in the Spanish economy. What assessment have the Government made of the fact that, because of free movement within the European Union, it is possible for people to come to this country without having a work visa because they do not need one, or a work authorisation, and not to be employed? 

What measures are being taken by the Government to ensure proper monitoring of the position, given that there are some disreputable employers in this country who pay people cash in hand, below the minimum wage, and buy things from scrap dealers and others who might be working illegally in this country? 

9.9 am 

Damian Green:  I thank all those who have asked questions and have made contributions to the debate. I shall deal with them in turn. The hon. Member for Rhondda invited me to throw caution to the wind and predict the numbers that might come from Bulgaria and Romania in 2013. I decline that invitation respectfully because, as has been said, it is difficult at this stage to begin to assess what the British labour market will be like and also exactly the benefits of the much better training and apprenticeship schemes that the Government are introducing, which will ensure that, in future, British workers are much better trained to take the vacancies that will arise in the British labour market. It would not therefore be sensible or prudent to essay guesses—they would be no more than that—about the numbers who might apply. However, I refer him to the point correctly made by the hon. Member for Ilford South, who said that in practice migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania tend to go to Italy and Spain; in particular, the link between Romania and Italy is very strong.  ……

Damian Green:  This Government, as have previous Governments, regard the free movement of people as one of the absolute core essential benefits of membership of the European Union. In all the debates about where power properly lies, it is important to remember the first principles. This country has benefited from free movement, and continues to do so. That is the context in which any discussion of that sort would take place. 

The hon. Member for Ilford South asked about people who go to places such as Spain. They can come here, but they cannot take a legal job. Of course, they can work illegally. He is quite right that illegal working over the years has been a significant problem in the immigration system. That is why one of the first things that I did as the Minister for Immigration was to mount a serious crackdown on illegal employers. The key to this—I choose my words carefully—is the employer. If we chase just the illegal workers, they can be replaced by another bunch of illegal workers the next month. We can go after the employers and fine them. If they do not pay the fines, we prosecute them. If we keep going back, they get the message. I am happy to report that we have had more raids and more arrests. We are collecting more fines than we used to, and there are complaints. I am pleased—for once—to read of complaints by employers in various local papers around the country. They claim that they are being hard hit by the UK Border Agency and that it is unfair on people who are trying to run a business. I do not agree with that. If someone is trying to run a business based on illegal working, I am delighted to hear that the UKBA is interrupting that procedure. As Minister, I have done everything that I can to facilitate that. 

Mike Gapes:  Is there not also an important point about enforcing the minimum wage? Frankly, the level of enforcement by the UKBA is rather limited. HMRC should work on this and people should be sent in to ensure that all workers are paid the minimum wage, because many of those who are paid less are undocumented and afraid for their status. 

Damian Green:  Yes, I very much take that point. Obviously, I am responsible for the UKBA, so responsibility for its immigration aspect falls directly to me. Indeed, one of the side effects of the activity that we are now undertaking more than ever before is to flush out employers who are trying to evade the minimum wage regulations. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The minimum wage is the law and employers should obey the law. Anything that I can do as a Minister or that the UKBA can do as an institution to help enforce that will be done. 

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