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THE Home Office has “robbed” immigration detainees of half a million pounds so far this year by paying them as little as £1 an hour to cook and clean, a leading trade unionist has warned.
The low-pay figures were obtained by the Morning Star in a freedom of information request to the Home Office, as part of a campaign to expose sweated labour in detention centres.
The government department paid detainees as little as £1 an hour in January and February.
They worked for a total of 73,659 hours at seven sites across England and Scotland, but received just £76,560, according to the latest figures available.
If the workers had been paid minimum wage — £7.83 an hour for workers aged over 24 — the Home Office would have owed an extra £500,000.
However the detainees, many claiming refugee status, are denied the right to minimum wage rates under a law passed by the Blair government in 2006 and upheld by successive home secretaries.
TUC race equalities officer Wilf Sullivan told the Morning Star that detainees were missing out on a “stunning amount of money.”
Mr Sullivan said: “Trade unions believe that people should be paid the rate for the job.
“Being placed in detention by the state doesn’t mean that people should be robbed of money that they rightly earned.”
The Star’s research has found that since the work regime began over a decade ago, detainees have missed out on at least £28 million in wages.
Labour shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the investigation was “a shocking indictment of the mistreatment and exploitation of immigration detainees.”
She added: “We know that most detainees are later granted leave to remain so should not have been detained in the first place.
“The Windrush scandal highlights how many of them are British citizens.
“To add this level of exploitation simply compounds the injustice.”
Ms Abbott pledged that a Labour government would end the practice of low pay for detainees, would shut down “large parts of the detention estate” and limit detention to no more than 28 days.
Her concerns about exploitation were echoed by Philip Armitage, a lawyer from the firm Duncan Lewis, which represents detainee workers.
“These latest figures obtained by the Morning Star show the scale of the ‘£1 per hour’ wage economy run by the Home Office in immigration detention centres,” Mr Armitage said.
“Our clients are doing essential work, such as cleaning, that would otherwise have to be done by workers paid the national minimum wage.”
The detainees suffered a defeat last month when a High Court judge refused them permission to challenge the low pay.
Mr Justice Murray, who is paid more than the Prime Minister, said the £1 per hour rate was “not … inhumane.”
Mr Armitage said the case will be brought to the Court of Appeal.
Last night a Home Office spokesperson defended the scheme.
They said: “The longstanding practice of offering paid activities to people in immigration detention centres helps to keep them occupied whilst their removal is being arranged.
“This practice is not a substitute for the work of trained staff due to the voluntary nature of the roles offered to detainees.
“Whether or not they wish to participate is entirely up to the detainees themselves, but the numbers of detainees volunteering for paid activities across the detention estate is evidence that the jobs are popular.”
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