On 12 October 2016, the Commissioner released his first annual report (for the period 1 August 2015 – 30 September 2016). This report comments on key achievements since taking office and looking forward, his priorities for 2017. The report can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-anti-slavery-commissioner-annual-report-2016
Kalayaan welcomes the work done by the Commissioner’s office on training for health care professionals and local authorities to recognise and offer support to victims of modern slavery. We are also pleased that the Commissioner has scrutinised and made recommendations to regional police forces across the country to ensure all trafficking and modern slavery claims are recorded as crimes and investigated.
In his first year the Commissioner contributed to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s inspection into the identification and support offered to victims of trafficking at the UK border. Kalayaan also contributed to this inspection and recommended that all domestic workers arriving in the UK at all ports be issued information in a language they can understand which clearly informs them of their employment rights under UK legislation and the practical steps they can take if they are working for an abusive employer. The ICIBI has since informed Kalayaan that they will be taking forward some of our recommendations when they present their final report to the Home Secretary by the end of 2016.
Kalayaan has also contributed to a Ministry of Justice consultation on the provision of legal aid for compensation claims. Given the restricted matter starts given to experienced solicitors firms for compensation claims, Kalayaan remains concerned that victims who have the right to pursue a claim are being denied the opportunity to do so. Kalayaan welcomes any support the Commissioner can lend to the government’s review so that domestic workers are able to access justice.
Kalayaan remains concerned at the government’s delay in implementing information sessions to domestic workers, as recommended by James Ewins in his independent review. Whilst we accept changes have been made to the Immigration Rules, (including being able to apply for a visa for up to 2 years if conclusively determined to be a victim of trafficking or slavery), in the 10 months since the independent review was first published, several thousand domestic workers will have entered the UK in ignorance of their employment and immigration rights. The changes made to the regime are of little worth if domestic workers are not aware of and are able to enforce their rights.
During the parliamentary debates after the independent review, James Brokenshire said that the government would use the powers in section 4(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 to permit domestic workers referred into the National Referral Mechanism during their initial six month stay to have permission to take employment whilst their case is being assessed. Kalayaan was then disappointed to learn that the government chose to restrict this right even further by permitting only those domestic workers referred and issued a positive reasonable grounds decision during their initial six month stay with permission to work.
It is essential that domestic workers know their rights whilst at work in the UK. Kalayaan and the Commissioner have offered to work together with the Home Office to lend our experience and expertise in supporting domestic workers and victims of modern slavery. The Home Office has told Kalayaan we will be able to feed into the preparation of the information meetings before they are rolled out. Kalayaan also hopes that the Home Office carefully considers the terms of the tender and that the organisation awarded the contract has proven expertise of the issues faced by domestic workers.