WIGAN businesses have been hit with thousands of pounds of fines for employing illegal workers over a 12-month period.
Two unscrupulous firms in the borough were landed with a total of £20,000 in penalties, each paying a £10,000 fine for incidents occurring between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014.
Four illegal workers were found by inspectors during this period, with both the penalised businesses employing two people without the necessary permits and documents.
The Home Office also issued a notice of potential liability (NOPL) referral pack to a third Wigan business, but an investigation proved the firm did not qualify for further action and a notification of no liability was issued to clear it.
In the past three years Wigan’s businesses have been forced to shell out almost £75,000 in fines for employing illegal migrants, with firms paying out £38,750 in 2011 and £15,000 in 2012. The largest single fine was also issued in 2011, when one organisations was made to pay £15,000.
Employees from the UK Border Agency, which has since been disbanded and its work given to the expanded Home Office, issued four notices of liability to Wigan’s businesses in 2011 and two in 2012.
The latest figures show a concerning rise in incidents of illegal working after numbers dropped following a summer crackdown by the authorities during 2012.
Investigators will visit workplaces if they receive suitable intelligence suggesting illegal activity is going on there.
Although illegal working is only punished through civil penalties such as fines, the Home Office also warned Wigan employers they could face criminal convictions and even prison for knowingly employing illegal workers or helping to bring someone into the UK illegally to work.
Unscrupulous businesses employing people without the correct documents have been linked to a number of serious social problems, with issues of exploitation, payments below the minimum wage, unsuitable housing and threats and intimidation if people try to leave the job.
Despite the penalties, a leading charity working with asylum seekers and refugees in Wigan said the numbers showed illegal working was not a major problem in the borough.
The chair of Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (Swap) said: “For us, illegal workers are not an issue and it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“We believe in people being paid a decent and fair wage for the work they do, and it is very positive that on the whole Wigan employers are doing this.”