10:36, March 27 266 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-27 10:36:04
Judge rules £1/hr wages for immigration detainees are lawful

A high court judge has today found that wages of £1 per hour paid in immigration detention centres are lawful.

Five former immigration detainees challenged the rates of pay, arguing that they were unlawful. The men’s case was thrown out by Mr Justice Murray, although he said: “I have sympathy for them”.

They are seeking permission to appeal today’s ruling in the court of appeal.

The £1 per hour rate of pay is less than one seventh of the legal minimum wage and described by detainees as “slave labour wages”. But the judge ruled that the rates were acceptable because the purpose of the types of jobs the men were doing, like cleaning, hairdressing and welfare support was “to provide meaningful activity and alleviate boredom”. He added that nobody was compelled to do this work.

Paid work in detention centres is voluntary and detainees do not have to pay for food or accommodation while they are incarcerated. Detention centres, like prisons, are exempt from minimum wage legislation.

In evidence, three of the former detainees who brought the challenge said that they had never seen external workers doing cleaning jobs in detention – only detainees. They said that detention centre managers would have to pay considerably more to get this work done if detainees didn’t do it.

In an internal review of pay rates conducted by the Home Office and linked to this legal challenge, one centre manager said: “When it comes to asking a detainee to put his hand down a toilet to clean or ask[ing them] to clean the body fat buildup in the showers for £1 an hour, then we are often met with the response that you can stuff your job, which is why we have a high turnover for shower cleaners and room cleaners.”

Mr Justice Murray said in his ruling that a common theme in the evidence from the five men who brought the legal challenge was that the rates of pay made them feel “exploited”.

The rate has remained the same since 2008 when the Home Office standardised work payments, which had previously varied between detention centres. In 2016-17, detainees carried out 887,073 hours of work, for which they were paid £887,565. A very small percentage of them – 0.27% – was paid an enhanced rate of £1.25 per hour for special projects.

Mr Justice Murray said that the overarching purpose of the 1999 Immigration Act was to provide “secure but humane accommodation” for detainees and that it was not inhumane to set a fixed rate for work detainees were not compelled to do.

Toufique Hossain, (corr) director of public law at Duncan Lewis which brought the legal challenge on behalf of the five former detainees, said: “Our clients bravely brought this challenge not just because of what they experienced in detention but also for the thousands of others who have been or are currently being exploited in such a way. Being paid £1 an hour for essential work is obscene. The judgment is disappointing but we will appeal. This is yet another feature of a harsh, hostile, broken immigration detention system that has to come to an end.”

The Home Office has been approached for comment.