Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Slave labour warning for employers

Employers who turn a blind eye to "slave labour" working conditions could face tough prison sentences.

Claire Williams, from our Alpha team, said the new Coroners and Justice Act which came into force in April, had introduced a new offence.

"The offence prevents employers from holding anyone in ‘slavery’, by using threats or deception to force them to work.
"And it’s a very serious offence, as any employer who is found to have knowingly ignored such a working environment could face up to 14 years in prison."

Claire said the new offence was introduced largely to protect vulnerable workers, such as migrants who may have little understanding of English or employment law.

"So if an employer threatened an employee with violence, or made threats to report the worker to the authorities, or made threats against the worker’s family, they could face severe consequences. The rules are a welcome introduction to employment law, but in today’s society, you would have expected that this kind of behaviour should have been outlawed decades ago.

"In reality, most employers will not be affected by the changes, as they will be already complying with existing employment law and treating their employees with the appropriate respect. But there is obviously still a need for this type of legislation, so its introduction can only be good news."

Claire said in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, there are exceptions for labour that may be necessary to protect public safety and other people’s rights. These include work done while someone is legally detained; military service; emergencies or life threatening situations; and work or service that forms part of everyone’s civic obligations.

Martin-Kaye’s Alpha Team offers all-inclusive employment law and human resources advice that can be tailored to suit the needs of each individual business.