Today I spoke in a House of Commons debate on the Modern Slavery Bill. The bill, which was first introduced in June 2014, is intended to tackle the increasing prevalence of human trafficking and exploitation in our society.
Figures released by the National Crime Agency last year estimated that 2,744 people, including 602 children, were trafficked to the UK for exploitation in 2013, a 22% increase on the previous year’s figures. Of those 2,744 victims, just 48 cases led to a conviction.
The Modern Slavery Bill includes several measures aimed at addressing this crisis, and many of its proposals have won support across political parties. But controversies remain, particularly over the bill’s provisions regarding visas for domestic workers who come to the UK with an employer.
Under changes introduced by the current government in 2012, domestic workers granted visas on this basis are tied to their employer, meaning they cannot leave to work for a different employer even if they are victims of abuse. I worked closely on this issue for a number of years as part of my role as Shadow Attorney General. Today I challenged the government on its approach.
From the moment the government changed the law in 2012 I’ve been raising serious concerns about the implications of this change for victims of abuse.
As the Modern Slavery Bill has moved through Parliament, Labour MPs have fought to include a provision to allow domestic workers to change employers. The government has fought these efforts at every turn.
Now, following the consideration of the bill in the House of Lords, the government has accepted a watered-down version of our amendment, which requires workers to prove that they have been a victim of slavery or human trafficking in order to be permitted to work for another employer.
This unacceptably high barrier means that victims of other forms of abuse, including sexual assault and rape, remain tied to their employer throughout their time in the UK.
It’s really disappointing that the government is insisting on its own watered down protections when they’ve had so many opportunities over the years to strengthen them. Their position simply flies in the face of the collective good sense of cross party advice and a coalition of charities, including Liberty and Kalayaan, that have campaigned so tirelessly on this issue.