Forced labour in NI: mapping issues and remedies
Last Saturday, the Law Centre held an afternoon event featuring three films on trafficking and forced labour, with the help of Belfast Film Festival and Unchosen Films.
Forced labour and trafficking: related but different
To complement the event, the Law Centre published the first in a series of briefings examining forced labour and trafficking. Read it here:
David Ford on modern slavery
David Ford MLA, Minister for Justice, dropped in and introduced the event, reminding us that more people are now in situations of forced labour throughout the world than before slavery was formally abolished.
The thought-provoking films included the award-winning Yoke Farm, which describes how a shop keeper responds to a call for help written by a young man on a £10 note and uncovers a forced labour ring. The film was based on real cases encountered by the Law Centre. Film director Tim Keeling described how he had wanted to show what such situations would look like to ordinary people and what signs they may look out for.
Expert panel maps out issues and remedies
Kasia Garbal of NIC-ICTU explained the work of her Migrant Workers Project and reminded the audience that most cases of forced labour uncovered in Northern Ireland involved people who had not been trafficked and who were in the country legally. The factors she would have encountered would be language issues and social or economic vulnerability. She agreed with audience members, however, that some immigration rules create an environment where forced labour and trafficking can happen.
Law Centre (NI) advisers Fidelma O'Hagan and Caroline Maguire provided concrete examples of cases where legal advice on employment, immigration, emergency help and benefits helped people get out of the grips of traffickers or illegal gangmasters. They called for equally strong support and deterrent measures for situations of forced labour as for those where people have been trafficked.
In the audience, members of NICRAS, Amnesty and other NGOs added their own expertise on the issues and representatives of health boards and Department of Justice outlined the role of their respective departments.
Law Centre recommendations
The Law Centre's report backs recommendations from Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership to increase the effectiveness of employment law enforcement mechanisms.
1. The Department of Justice should ensure that Northern Ireland’s legislation, guidance and policy ensure that victims of forced labour have equivalent protections and entitlements as victims of trafficking and to ensure that all victims are supported at least while criminal/civil proceedings take place.
2. The Department for Employment and Learning and Department of Justice should review current arrangements to ensure that labour justice is accessible to all workers in Northern Ireland.
3. In the short term, the Department for Employment and Learning should co-ordinate an employment enforcement network and publish an annual report of enforcement activity.
4. In the longer term, the Department for Employment and Learning should review the remit and powers of enforcement agencies and expand where necessary. DEL should also identify how the powers can be consolidated through a more centralised approach.