Migrant workers in the UK working under forced labour conditions

Migrant workers in the UK are subject to levels of exploitation and control that meet the international legal definition of forced labour, according to a report from the TUC.

The TUC argues that migrant workers should benefit from the same rights that apply to every other worker in the UK.

It is calling on the government to put more emphasis in its managed migration policies on cracking down on employers who break employment law.

The TUC said its report revealed that migrants who can legally work in this country are ‘shockingly badly exploited’ because they are unable to enforce their legal rights because of the power their employers have over them.

Risks to migrant workers are influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • people here on a work permit can be deported if they lose their job, and employers can sack them if they complain
  • people may be dependent on their employer for accommodation
  • employers may hold passports
  • people may owe their employers for loans taken out to finance their travel or other arrangements
  • employers can intimidate and threaten staff who do not know their rights, have poor standards of English language  and no access to alternative support.

The report, Forced Labour and Migration to the UK, reveals abuse, including very long hours, pay below the minimum wage and dangerous working conditions in a range of sectors including construction, hospitality, agriculture, food processing, horticulture, contract cleaning, nursing and care homes.

The TUC is calling for employees here on a work permit to have more rights to report abuse and change employer, and that employers guilty of abuses should lose the right to apply for work permits for staff.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Tomorrow we will remember the Morecambe Bay tragedy. The government has taken action since then, and we welcome the Gangmasters Bill. But this report shows that more needs to be done.

“The precarious position of those who have no legal basis to work here is well known, but what this report shows is just how much people with every legal right to hold a job can also be so badly exploited that they must count as forced labour,” he said.


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