It’s been a year since the government changed laws to increase penalties for employing illegal workers in the UK. Business owners can now face a jail term of up to five years and an unlimited fine if they are found to have knowingly employed an illegal worker, and could be fined up to £20,000 per worker if they haven’t done the correct checks to ensure that staff are legally entitled to work here.
But this change hasn’t stopped the UK’s growing labour black market, where many immigrants struggle with language and lack of skills. The only option for illegal immigrants for whom legal employment would expose them to the authorities, is to work in the shadow economy and under the radar of those that could deport them. Paid in cash, workers are subject to low wages and poor conditions, with no benefits or rights. Many illegal immigrants are brought here by employers, tying the workers to a life of inhumane conditions and no prospects.
Black market labour is not regulated and therefore difficult to measure, however the estimated cost to the treasury is £2 billion a year, or 7% of GDP. But the costs don’t just weigh heavily on the purse strings of the country’s economy, every year hundreds of thousands of immigrants come to the UK looking for work, and many of them are forced into working in the black market where they are exploited by ruthless employers looking to save on tax and employment costs.
Latest immigration figures put the number of migrants to the UK for year ending June 2016 at 650,000, with 11% of the total labour market believed to be migrants. Illegal immigration is impossible to account for, those that stand up to be counted face deportation, therefore attempts are rarely made at estimating it. This makes the number of people working in the black market and the size of the problem difficult to gauge.
Whether Brexit and the governments year old policy will have any bearing on the UK labour black market remains to be seen. But in a culture where zero-hour contracts and the gig economy continue to grow along with a rise in xenophobic attitudes, the labour black market is booming, not helped by the chaotic and unstable state of immigration in the UK.
What can be done?
Here at Security Watchdog we have a team of highly skilled and knowledgeable Immigration experts who can ensure your company only employs people who are cleared to work in the UK.