Thousands of workers from India are working in “sweatshop factories” in the UK, earning illegally low wages to produce software for back-office systems such as payroll and absence management, Personnel Today has learned.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco) revealed that Indians were granted 26,835 (or just under 80%) of the 33,756 IT work permits issued during 2006.
Ann Swain, Atsco’s chief executive, said that Indian firms were bringing staff to UK offices on short-term transfers to work cheaply and then take the knowledge back home.
“They are working in sweatshop factories, not learning English, some are in hostels and most are not learning the culture,” Swain said. “We have had calls from people saying they are earning less than half what they could on the open market,” she added.
Trade union Amicus said a Home Office document it had seen revealed that one in six approved visas breached government rules, which state that overseas workers must earn as much as UK residents doing similar work.
The union said that British IT workers were losing their jobs to Indians, who would work for less, and that this was damaging the home-grown industry.
“There is growing evidence of substitution and displacement of resident workers. This destroys pathways to UK jobs,” said Amicus national officer Peter Skyte.
But the British Computer Society (BCS) questioned the views of Atsco and Amicus.
Elizabeth Sparrow, chair of the BCS working party on offshoring, said: “There are some queries about whether they are paid as much, but they are not being exploited. They are paid highly compared with their colleagues back home.”
The Home Office said it took abuse of the work permit system “extremely seriously”, but did not accept that ongoing abuse existed.
Top five countries for UK IT work visas
1 India 26,835
2 US 1,501
3 Australia 652
4 South Africa 645
5 China 494
Source: Atsco Freedom of Information request