Unusually for a Friday, I am in Parliament today to support two very important Private Members’ Bills. These are the Reuniting Refugee Families and the Banning Unpaid Trial Shifts Bill.
As the name suggests, Private Members Bills are Bills introduced by individual MPs rather than by the Government. Because of the complexity and unpredictability of parliament’s procedures, I can’t be certain they will both be voted on, but if they are, I will be voting in favour of them.
We are currently facing one of the biggest refugee crises the world has seen since the Second World War. 65 million people, over half of them children are currently refugees. Every day the news is full of reports of genocide, ethnic cleansing, physical and sexual violence against vulnerable civilian populations. You can probably already name the countries; Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and more.
At the moment, the UK has a very strict definition of the term “immediate family” within immigration rules, so if a refugee is given permission to stay in the UK after fleeing war or persecution, they can only apply to sponsor bringing their parents, spouses and children under 18 to join them. Adult children, grandparents and brothers or sisters are not covered and will therefore be denied entry to the UK. We all rely on families and support networks to build our lives, which is why most European countries operate a looser definition of the term “family”.
Even if refugees reach safety through being permitted to remain in the UK, they cannot be happy, settle or integrate if their families remain torn apart and with close relatives in danger. The Bill, if it became law would, according to current figures, enable about 800 to 1000 refugees who have made their homes here in the UK, able to apply to sponsor young adult children, brothers, sisters and grandparents to join them.
Lots of constituents have contacted me giving their views and support for this Bill. I have been able to speak about that in the debate this morning. I’m proud that our city is a City of Sanctuary full of compassionate and understanding citizens.
We have already lost enough chances to help those most in need, through the Government’s broken promise on the Dubs scheme, its rejection of the plight of refugees at Calais and the endless demonisation of refugees by certain daily newspapers.
This second Bill, which as I write seems very unlikely to be debated and voted on today because of time wasting tactics by Conservative MPs, is the result of a powerful campaign by Unite the Union who have worked tirelessly to show how the practice of unpaid trial shifts is being abused by employers to get free labour or to help them cover busy periods in their business and organisations.
Trial shifts are being offered for jobs that don’t exist or that go on for 4 weeks. The current law only stipulates that trial shifts should not be “excessively long”, this is exactly the kind of woolly wording that bad bosses are using for their own advantage. They put the prospect of a job in front of people desperate for a start in the job market or for a particular career then abuse their trust.
The Government have ignored the problem and it is getting worse and worse every year. The number of complaints about unpaid trial shifts has increased 6 fold in the last 3 years. The law clearly needs to be tightened, which is why I am backing the cross party effort to ensure that this Bill makes it past this first hurdle in Parliament.
You can see my speech on the Reuniting Refugee Families Bill here;