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Gail is furious. As an RCN officer, she’s spoken to far too many international nurses facing huge bills they shouldn’t have to pay. 

“Some nurses are effectively working for free after having money unlawfully deducted from their wages,” she says. “These nurses are frightened. The last thing they want is to rock the boat or get involved in the UK legal system. So, with their eyes firmly fixed on securing their long-term future in the UK, they’re paying. Dishonest employers are taking advantage of their vulnerable situation.”

There are, of course, fees to pay when nurses are recruited from overseas. But for many, problems arise when they seek to leave their initial employment for a job elsewhere. 

Suddenly exaggerated costs appear that weren’t previously discussed. Sometimes new contracts are issued, with lengthier notice periods, or containing additional fees for retrospective recruitment, travel or training. In a number of cases, existing fees have jumped to £14,000 with no evidence for the additional costs being reclaimed. 

Some employers are also withholding references until fees are paid. Nurses are frightened they won’t be able to start a new job without these vital documents so feel they’re left with no alternative but to pay.

Bullying tactics

Nurses aren’t legally obliged to stay with these employers, but many are too scared of losing their potential UK citizenship to challenge the decisions.

Gail explains: “Employers are using bullying tactics to unlawfully take money from these unsuspecting staff. I’ve represented several nurses who, when they said they wished to leave an employer, had deductions taken from their salaries ranging from £2,000 to £9,000.”

We have a strong legal team these employers won’t want to face in court

Due to their skilled worker visa status, these nurses are reliant on employers to maintain their ability to remain in the UK. Foremost in their minds are their family commitments and their desperation to avoid any inference of wrongdoing. 

“They’re too frightened to do anything other than make the payments when their employers threaten them with court action. Employers are using the threat of removal from the UK if they don’t pay,” says Gail.

“If you’re in this situation, please tell us now. Or, if you know a member who’s facing this, tell them to contact the RCN urgently. We understand how frightening it must feel but we’re here to help, and we have a strong legal team and immigration experts who these employers won’t want to face in court.”

What will the RCN do?

We’ll advise and support members not to sign these new contracts. We’ll also push employers to provide evidence of their costs. If this can’t be provided, members shouldn’t have to pay. 

Gail adds: “Nursing staff shouldn’t sign any new contracts or accept terms of employment without seeking support and advice. Employers could claim they were given authority to reclaim money if these were inadvertently signed. Anyone who’s being asked to repay money should contact the RCN. We’ll check to see what’s payable. 

“Please don’t put up with paying extortionate fees. This wouldn’t happen to nursing staff from the UK. It shouldn’t happen to any RCN member.” 

In addition to supporting individual members with their cases, the RCN is raising this at national level, and placing the issue firmly on the Department of Health and Social Care’s agenda.

Deductions from your pay: what’s lawful?

In some cases Gail’s dealt with, fees of £3,000 for a certificate of sponsorship have been charged. This is not within the licence agreement with the Home Office.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 affords protection against unlawful deductions from wages to employees, agency workers and apprentices, but not self-employed people.

Your employer isn’t allowed to make a deduction from your pay or wages unless:

  •  it's required or allowed by law, for example national insurance, income tax or student loan repayments
  •  you and your employer agree the deduction in writing
  •  the contract of employment states they can do this
  •  there’s a statutory payment due to a public authority
  •  you've not worked due to taking part in industrial action
  •  it's the result of a court order or employment tribunal decision.

More information

Words by Sharon Palfrey 

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