Unscrupulous agencies cash in on migrant worker ignorance

The
TUC claims an undercover investigation reveals that employment agencies are
breaking the law by charging people to find them work.

New
Government regulations for agency workers due to come into force tomorrow will
do very little to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation at the hands of
crooked employment agencies, the TUC claims.

And,
it says, the new regulations will do nothing to stop these illegal practices.

Two-thirds
of the agencies approached told TUC investigators posing as undocumented migrant
workers that they could get them work, but only after they paid a fee. One of
the agencies said that £100 could lead to waiter’s job, while it would cost £50
for a position as a kitchen porter.

It
is currently against the law to charge most temps a ‘find-work fee’. The
unlicensed and unregulated nature of UK employment agencies, combined with an
almost complete lack of enforcement by government inspectors, is allowing many
high street agencies to make a quick buck from unsuspecting workers, the TUC says.

The
TUC is concerned that language difficulties and an ignorance of UK employment
law make migrant workers especially vulnerable in the hands of agencies
operating on the fringes of the law.

Workers
without documents are particularly at risk of mistreatment, warns the TUC, as
people afraid to make themselves known to the authorities are unlikely to make
a complaint about an agency.

TUC
general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The new agency worker regulations
will not stop agency workers being treated as third-class citizens. The
Government has bent over backwards to the wishes of employers and agency
owners, instead of acting to protect the group of workers most open to abuse
from unscrupulous employers and rogue agencies.

"Our
research shows many agencies cannot be trusted to operate within the law. All
agency workers, regardless of where they are from, deserve to be treated fairly
and not exploited. But it seems the more vulnerable an agency worker, the more
likely an agency is to charge.

"Licensing
UK employment agencies, a proper system of enforcement and lifting the block on
the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive would help stamp out these kind of
abuses," Barber said.

The
TUC is calling on the Government to:

·
Withdraw from the alliance of Irish, Danish and German governments that is
blocking the progress of the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive.

·
Introduce a system of licensing for all employment agencies and increase the
resources available to Department of Trade and Industry inspectors so that any
agency flouting the law may be successfully prosecuted.

·
Bring in protection for whistleblowers so that any worker whose immigration
status is unclear can make a complaint about an agency and not be immediately
threatened with deportation.

By Quentin Reade

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