Companies face criminal penalties for illegal labour

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Member states European union

The European Commission has proposed a series of sanctions -
including criminal prosecution - against companies that continually
break illegal labour laws.

The proposal mirrors new laws in the UK aimed at cracking down on the use of illegal labour in the agriculture and food manufacturing sectors. A similar EU-wide law would expose managers across the bloc to fines and possible jail time. The Commission is proposing an EU-wide requirement that all employers undertake specific checks before recruiting a third-country national and notify national regulators Employers who cannot show that they have complied with those obligations will be liable to fines and other administrative measures. Member states would be required to pass laws imposing criminal penalties against those who have repeatedly infringed the law, who are caught employing a significant number of illegal labourers, who operate using exploitative working conditions, or if they know that the worker is a victim of human trafficking. Franco Frattini, the EU's commissioner for justice, said current measures to prevent companies hiring illegal labourers are not working. "It is vital to acknowledge that the near certainty of finding illegal work in EU member states is the main driving force behind illegal immigration from third countries,"​ said Franco Frattini, the EU's commissioner for justice. The Commission estimates that up to 4,000 people die each year entering the EU illegally. Frattini added that illegal employment also distorts competition and the functioning of the EU's internal market. "We must therefore be firm and committed and act as one to vigorously combat this phenomenon by creating similar penalties for employers and ensuring effective enforcement,"​ he said. Currently, checks on staff records in Europe's firms are rare, with employers making checks on about 2 per cent of their workers in 2006. The Commission proposal requires member states to inspect at least 10 per cent of their companies every year. The European Council, the bloc's highest decision making body, has already endorsed the Commission's proposal at a meeting in December 2006. "Ensuring that all member states introduce similar measures, and enforce them effectively, is vital,"​ Frattini said. Member states already have sanctions to combat illegal employment, but these vary in severity and enforcement. Ensuring that all countries introduce similar penalties, and enforce them effectively, will avoid distortions on the single internal market caused by unfair competition from employers of illegal migrants, he said. The Commission proposes measures to award non-EU countries for helping to stem the inflow of illegal migrants. Opportunities for legal migration, such as short-term visas, could be offered to nationals of the relevant countries, the Commission proposes. The number of illegal migrants employed in the EU range between 4.5 and eight million, increasing by up to 500,000 per year, according to Commission estimates. A new UK law, that came into force at the end of last year, requires processors to source their temporary labour from licensed gangmasters. The law applies to suppliers of temporary labor to agriculture and food processing operations. The law makes it illegal for businesses to employ workers through unlicensed gangmasters, private individuals or companies that supply labour to industries. Those who use workers or services provided by an unlicensed gangmaster face a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks and a maximum fine of £5,000. Gangmasters who continue to trade without a licence willface potential penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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