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Home Office campaign to tackle illegal working in construction sector begins

by Brian Sims
The Government is targeting illegal working in the UK's construction sector

The Government is targeting illegal working in the UK’s construction sector

A Home Office enforcement campaign designed to root out illegal working in the construction industry has now been announced by immigration minister James Brokenshire. ‘Operation Magnify’ will involve Home Office enforcement officers carrying out operations specifically to target those businesses in the sector employing and exploiting illegal migrant workers.

Brokenshire has hosted a meeting with construction industry leaders about plans to end illegal working in the sector. This meeting featured a detailed round table discussion on the matter.

The minister stated: “Coming together with key employers and influencers in the construction industry is a chance for us to engage with those who are keen to maintain the integrity of the sector. Illegal working undermines legitimate employers, harms the reputation of the industry, drives down wages and denies employment to hard-working UK citizens and people who are working in the UK on a legal basis. Employers within the construction industry have a critical role to play in helping to combat this by ensuring they carry out the straightforward ‘Right to Work’ checks on potential employees that prevent illegal working.”

The round table event was an opportunity for those in the construction sector to share their experiences of illegal working in the sector, find out more about measures introduced thus far by the Government to tackle the problem and discuss what more can be done. Those attending included representatives from construction companies working across the public and commercial sectors as well as representatives from industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council, the Chartered Institute of Building and Build UK.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire MP

Immigration minister James Brokenshire MP

Gillian Econopouly, head of policy and research, represented the Construction Industry Training Board and noted the negative implications illegal working can have on Health and Safety measures.

“Workers without the correct Health and Safety qualifications pose a serious safety issue to those on site,” urged Econopouly, ” as well as members of the general public. We’ve found cases where illegal workers have used false Health and Safety documents to be onsite. We’re working diligently with Government to stamp this out in the construction sector.”

The very nature of construction work means that the industry can be particularly exposed to the risk of illegal employment due to historical skill shortages, reliance on transient labour and forged identity documents being used to gain access to work.

The Government has already taken action to make ‘Right to Work’ checks much easier for legitimate employers to carry out, including by reducing the frequency of checks and the range of documents needed.

Failure to comply has serious financial repercussions for businesses. In the last Parliament, the Government doubled the maximum civil penalty for non-compliant employers to £20,000 for each illegal worker employed.

New measures included in the Immigration Bill currently progressing through Parliament will make it easier for the authorities to prosecute employers using illegal labour, increase the maximum prison sentence for doing so to five years and also close down those businesses which continue to flout the rules.

Those who work illegally will themselves be committing a criminal offence and face the prospect of having their earnings seized. The Government will also continue to seek to remove from the UK anyone who does not have the right to be here.

*Employers with questions about checking a job applicant’s right to work in the UK can call the dedicated support line for advice on 0300 123 4699. They can also use the Employers’ Checking Service for checks on migrants with outstanding immigration applications and appeals

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