Employers who take on illegal immigrants will apparently face new sanctions under the law. Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire said companies “will be hit from all angles” (1) with raids and checks concentrating on building sites, cleaning firms and care homes.
Apparently, the government intends to use a multi-pronged attack using HMRC, the tax office, the health and safety executive and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (the body that issues licenses to employment agencies and gangmasters within the agricultural industries) in an attempt to tackle employers who break the law in this way.
But is this merely another illustration of government grandstanding and the use of soundbites in exchange for any serious commitment to tackling the issue? A Freedom of Information request found the Home Office had issued almost £80m in fines but collected just £25m. The figures show that more than 8,500 penalties totalling £79,300,000 were issued between 2008/09 and 2012/13, but two-thirds of that total remains uncollected (2).
In 2009/10 the number of employers fined for using illegal immigrants stood at 2,254. By 2013/14 (the latest available figures) the number had been reduced to 2,090 (3). The government would claim that this is a success. But Labour and the unions say that this merely shows that the problem is going undetected because a lack of resources because of cuts, hence the need for the crackdown.
Unite, the country’s largest union, argue that the scope and powers of The Gangmasters Licensing Authority need to be expanded to prevent abuses that amount to modern day slavery (4).
They said that if the government was really serious about this crackdown it would expand the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to include more sectors other than just agriculture. And they would give it more money. In fact, it’s funding was frozen in 2010 (5).
The gangmasters when contacted by Channel 4 News about the supposed government crackdown didn’t know anything about it (6). A poll of Border Force employees revealed 98% questioned thought staff shortages were stopping them making all the checks they should (7).
Meanwhile, on the back of Cameron’s description of migrants as a ‘swarm’ (8), Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond defended his use of the term ‘marauding’ when describing the immigrants at Calais who are trying to access the tunnel their (9).
This narrative fits in with the government’s perceived crackdown on rogue employers who take on illegal workers. In reality, the appearance of toughness has more to do with appeasing their right-wing constituency in an attempt to win back former Tory voters who deserted the party for UKIP prior to the last election.