Forced Labour

This page was last updated on: 2021-09-18

Prohibition on Forced and Compulsory Labour

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defined forced labour as: 'all work or service that is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily'. Simply, it means that the person does not work out of freedom of choice but rather feels like there is no other option but work for someone. This definition is embedded in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which has been confirmed by UK legislation.

The ILO definition covers all employment, irrespective of formality or legality; no one is excluded through age, gender, nationality, citizenship or immigration status. However, significant challenges remain in applying this definition in the contemporary economy. 

Specifically victims of forced labour may have been manipulated or coerced; some may have knowingly accepted conditions and/or risks associated with particular forms of work (at least initially), often motivated by monetary gain; or forced labour may develop from situations where employers and workers knowingly engage in illegal activity. Almost always, workers become vulnerable and fearful of complaining.

Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 introduces a new offence of holding someone in slavery or servitude, or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. The offence applies to anyone holding a person in such circumstances and the maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment or a fine or both.

Modern Slavery Act 2015 deals with the slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and about human trafficking, including provision for the protection of victims; to make provision for an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner; and for connected purposes. Section 1(b) states that a person commits an offence if the person requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that the culprit knows or ought to know that the victim is being required to perform forced or compulsory labour. In addition to this definition, the act states that regard may be had to the victim’s personal circumstances, which may make that person more vulnerable, and also to the specific working situations.

The penalty of committing an offence of forced labour is imprisonment for life or a lesser penalty of imprisonment for less than 12 months or a fine or both.

Source: Employment Rights Act 1996; Regulation 4 of the Working Time Regulations 1998

Freedom to Change Jobs and Right to Quit

There is no provision in UK Legislature, which restrict the workers to change or quit job. If a worker decides to terminate the employment, he/she may resign by giving notice to the employer as specified in the employee’s contract of employment.

Otherwise, section 86 (2) states that statutory notice period is one week if you have been continuously employed for more than one month

Source: §1(4e); §86(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996

Inhumane Working Conditions

Working time is handled under the Working Time Regulations 1998 The maximum weekly working hours (including overtime) are 48 hours averaged over a reference period of 17 weeks. Workers can also opt out of the maximum weekly hour limit of 48 hours.

For employees that have normal working hours, overtime usually means any time worked beyond these hours. An employee’s employment contract will usually include details of any overtime pay rates and how they are worked out. Employees only have to work overtime if their contract says so.

If you’re aged 18 or over and work for more than 6 hours a day, you’re entitled to:

  • An uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes, taken during the day rather than at the beginning or end (e.g., tea or lunch break)
  • 11 consecutive hours of resting each 24-hour period
  • 1 rest day in each working week - this could be averaged out over 2 weeks, so you'd be entitled to 2 days off in a fortnight

Your contract might say you’re entitled to more than this, for example you might get an hour for a lunch break.

Source: §234 of Employment Rights Act 1996; Regulation 4 of the Working Time Regulations 1998

Regulations on Forced Labour

  • Coroners and Justice Act, 2009
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