Effects of the new anti-slavery legislation on the UK workplace

Anti-slavery legislation

Since April 2010 there has been a new offence introduced which may have an effect on the employment sector in England and Wales.

It is now a criminal offence to hold a person in slavery or servitude or require them to perform forced or compulsory labour.

What is the potential prison sentence for an individual found guilty of this offence?

An individual found guilty of this offence will be liable to a maximum prison sentence of 14 years under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

What does this offence mean for the employment sector?

Following the creation of this offence individuals who are required to work long hours, do not receive overtime and are subject to particular jobs which they do not enjoy may feel that they will benefit directly from this legislation. However, this is not necessarily the case.

What is meant by forced labour?

The concept of forced labour is not one that is found in the everyday employment contract that many individuals in the United Kingdom are subject to. Often an employee may feel that many of their day-to-day tasks in their own mind may amount to forced labour but in reality this is rarely the case.

The crux of the matter is that the vast majority of employment in the United Kingdom employment sector involves a choice by that employee to work for a particular employer. Where this choice exists that employment clearly will not fall within the definition of forced labour.

What must be present in order for labour to be deemed forced?

In order for labour to be deemed forced there must be some level of coercion or deception which goes beyond the ordinary.

Would this include poor pay and long hours?

Poor pay and long hours no matter how grueling on the part of the employees would not fall within the definition of forced labour. There still essentially exists a choice. Although an individual may have little option to choose to work in a particular job for poor pay and long hours there is still no coercion or deception on the part of the person employing them.

What is the reason for this?

Many industries in which responsible employers operate depend very much on low-cost seasonable labour.

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For more information on:

  • Do these workers already have existing statutory protection?
  • How will a worker be able to show that an individual employer is in breach of this new legislation?
  • What must this evidence be?
  • How can coercion or deception be shown?
  • Will this new legislation have any impact on the UK employment sector as it currently stands?
  • What then is the purpose of the legislation?