The Bill will replace the Control of Employment Act 1975 and make a number of important changes to the existing system of work permit controls.
The changes are being proposed in order to introduce a modernised system of controls which will help drive economic growth in an increasingly diverse economy and which carefully balances the interests of both employers and Isle of Man workers.
Minister for Economic Development John Shimmin MHK said:
‘Work permits are one of the most contentious areas of policy and the legislation has long had both its vehement supporters and critics. The current Act, which was designed to safeguard employment opportunities for unskilled manual workers at a time when many had to leave the Island to seek work outside the visitor season, was unquestionably in need of modernisation and the Department has thought long and hard as to how we could best reform the legislation.
‘Having looked at all the options we decided to retain but modernise the existing system of controls. The new Bill liberalises the system in some respects and tightens it up in others; what I will be presenting is a balanced package of carefully thought out reforms which will encourage job creation while continuing to protect the interests of Isle of Man workers.’
The main changes proposed are:
Definition of Isle of Man worker
The new Bill proposes that a person is an Isle of Man worker if he or she has at any time been ordinarily resident in the Island for an unbroken period of at least 5 years. This new definition will not be applied retrospectively.
The Department will have more flexibility to grant exemptions or to remove existing exemptions from the requirement for work permits. For example, the Department has a new power to exempt, subject to any conditions, a person working in a specified capacity if it considers the employment of that person to be in the national interest.
Permits for spouses and civil partners
Currently the Department must grant a one year permit on application to anyone who is married to, or the civil partner of, a work permit holder or an exempt person. The permit is renewable annually provided that the spouse or civil partner still holds a permit or is an exempt person and the couple are still married or civil partners.
Under the new Bill the spouse or civil partner of a permit holder or exempt person will be able to apply for a one year permit themselves with the permit not being limited to any particular employment.
Applicants with a criminal conviction
A person with a relevant criminal conviction* will no longer be entitled to use any exemption. Similarly the spouse of a permit holder or of an exempt person will no longer have an automatic entitlement to a permit if he or she has such a conviction.
*A relevant criminal conviction is a custodial sentence imposed anywhere in the world which is not 'spent', or is excluded from rehabilitation under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 2001, or is relevant to the particular employment under that Act.
Criteria for the granting of a permit
Under the existing Regulations the Department must take 5 matters into consideration in determining whether or not to grant an application for a permit and may take any of 11 further matters into consideration.
Under the proposed Regulations 9 matters must be taken into consideration and 17 matters may be taken into consideration.
The list of matters includes some criteria of a social nature; such matters are intended to ensure that any wider consequences of granting a permit, particularly the costs to the Government, may be taken into consideration. Further, the Bill contains explicit powers for the Department to have regard in regulations to the potential impact of any relevant person** when deciding whether or not to grant a permit.
**A relevant person is “any person living with, or likely to live with the person concerned as a member of his or her family or household.
Under new powers in the Bill, the Department also gains discretionary powers to take into account the ability of the person in respect of whom a permit is sought and any relevant person to speak English.
Maximum financial penalties for offences are increased from £2,500 to £5,000 and for aggravated offences from £5,000 to £7,500.
The Department may impose a fixed penalty for an offence of working, or employing a person, without a work permit, or failing to comply with a condition of a work permit or exemption, as an alternative to prosecution subject to maximum of £1,000. A fixed penalty may also be imposed for a contravention of the regulations.
Under the draft 2014 Regulations there are a wider range of grounds for revoking a permit. New grounds include failure to comply with a condition attached to the granting of a permit, failure to pay income tax and a significant number of consumer complaints.
Express powers are given for various authorities such as the police to share information with the Department for specified purposes.
The Bill will be debated by the House of Keys at its sitting on January 28th 2014.