My Lords, paid work is provided in immigration removal centres as a means to meet the recreational and intellectual needs of detainees and to relieve boredom. The work is not compulsory. All policies and processes are kept under review, and an internal review of the rate of pay of detainees is under way.
My Lords, does the Minister accept the irony of providing menial, albeit voluntary, work—as she says, it is to meet detainees’ recreational and intellectual needs and provide relief from boredom—when asylum seekers are not allowed to work at all? Is the rate of £1 an hour for people who have committed no crime something that as a society we can be proud of?
My Lords, it is important to recognise that immigration detainees have lawfully had their right to work in the UK, if indeed they ever had one, curtailed by virtue of an immigration decision or by the decision to detain them. Therefore, their position regarding pay rights is not the same as for people who are not subject to immigration detention.
My Lords, a freedom of information request to the Home Office in 2014 apparently found that in May that year hundreds of detainees had been paid £45,438 for 44,832 hours of work. If that work were not done by detainees in the immigration centre “volunteering”, as the Government seem to describe it, presumably it would have to be done in total or in part by paid staff of Serco or whoever is running the centre. If the figures I have cited for one month are correct, that suggests that the saving from using detainees at £1 per hour, compared to paying employed staff on the minimum wage, would be in the region of £300,000 a month. Who gets the benefit of this apparently considerable financial saving each month? Is it the Government or the firm running the immigration centre who reap that financial benefit?
My Lords, it is important to recognise that the work undertaken is entirely voluntary. It is not to supplement the work of the contractors. Contractually, the IRC providers must make a minimum number of opportunities available for detainees to participate voluntarily in this paid activity. As I explained to the noble Baroness, detainees’ position regarding pay rights is not the same as for those who are not in detention.
My Lords, perhaps I can give the Minister another opportunity to answer the Labour Front Bench question. Can she confirm that most of the immigration centres are run by private companies, in which case, what happens to the additional profit that these companies make from employing inmates at £1 an hour instead of employing someone on at least the minimum wage to do the same tasks?
My Lords, I have to repeat myself: people are not compelled to work; it is entirely voluntary. The money that they are paid is not in line with rates of pay for the non-detention population and therefore is entirely different. The work is not there to prop up these private companies’ profits, but they are obliged to make these opportunities available should detainees wish to avail themselves of them.
Surely they want to do the work because it is the only way they can get any money. In the leaked document, it was suggested that £1 an hour seems high. On what criteria does the Home Office believe that £1 is high pay for an hour of a person’s labour?
My Lords, is the Minister really satisfied that the recipients are not allowed to work for 12 months? After that time of boredom, I imagine that they would volunteer for anything. I have asked this question a thousand times: is it not time that the Government reduced that period to, say, six months or nothing? Also, the payment of £36.95 a week has been in place for at least six years. Is it not time that the Government looked again at the whole situation?
My Lords, while someone is claiming asylum, they are not a citizen of this country, and it is through this process that it is determined whether they can stay in this country or need to be removed. The detention process is part of this. Detention is not done on a routine basis; it is the last resort.