A dramatic surge in the number of migrant workers living in accommodation provided by their employer has prompted an impassioned plea to HR professionals from the TUC.
The union body called on employers to consider the plight of people living in such ‘tied cottage’ arrangements.
One-third of 508 migrant workers surveyed by the union umbrella body were living in tied cottages – with many in “cramped” and “grotty” conditions.
Some employers are operating ‘hotbedding’ systems, where two members of staff work opposing shifts and sleep in the same bed at different times. Others put 12 or more staff in the same house, or even use storage containers as housing for workers.
It is not illegal for employers to provide worker housing. However, if the workers are paid the minimum wage, the maximum the employer is allowed to deduct for accommodation is £4.15 per day – and then only if they sign a contract agreeing to the arrangement.
Nicola Smith, senior policy officer on vulnerable employment at the TUC, told Personnel Today the report – one of the largest surveys of migrant workers – was evidence that tied cottage arrangements were on the increase.
“Tied accommodation makes people more vulnerable often it breaks health and safety legislation and if people lose their job then they have to find a new job and a new place to live very quickly,” she said.
“I would ask HR professionals to make sure they are treating people fairly and are acting within the law. Even if people are in legal tied accommodation, there is a greater risk of exploitation.”
The TUC has also called for tougher enforcement of the national minimum wage (NMW) in light of the report.
“There are just over 100 NMW enforcement officers policing the pay of 25 million employees in the UK,” said Smith. “There is a need for a much stronger and more proactive regime to be put in place.”
TUC survey findings
The main findings of the TUC survey Migrant Workers’ Challenges and Opportunities to Trade Unions were:
- More than half of Eastern European migrant workers said they had encountered problems at work in the UK.
- Nearly one-quarter reported having no written contract, including almost one-third of agency workers.
- More than one-quarter had problems with payment, including: not being paid for hours worked discrepancies between pay and payslips unauthorised deductions and errors in pay calculation.
- Ten times as many migrants as home-grown workers were paid less than the national minimum wage.