Meeting about ‘exploitation’ of migrant workers

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EXPLOITATION, hardship and homelessness suffered by migrant workers living in south Lincolnshire were discussed at a meeting last week.

Supermarkets, gangmasters and employers came in the firing line at the launch of a four-year report into forced labour among migrant workers.

The meeting on Friday, held at the Len Medlock Voluntary Centre in Boston, looked at the experiences of those in south Lincolnshire as one of four UK areas examined.

Although there were no reported cases of forced labour here, issues of workplace exploitation, poor accommodation and homelessness were high on the agenda.

The national study was headed by Prof Gary Craig, of Hull University, and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Mr Craig said the report looked at the ‘dark underside of migration and the issue of forced labour’ but added that this was not to ignore the impact migration has had on local infrastructures.

Making reference to the high number of migrants in the local area, Mr Craig said: “South Lincolnshire is one of the two areas where migrant workers are most concentrated. It is more acute here than anywhere else, except maybe Herefordshire.”

Looking at the exploitation issue with workers in low-pay jobs in the food, factory, catering and cleaning industries, he said: “This area has some of the worst cases of agency abuse. There is homelessness, overcrowding, poor work conditions, and people coming from other countries who are highly over-qualified for the work they do.

“Migrant workers are filling gaps in the labour market that, quite frankly, local people are not willing to fill.”

The increase in the number of gangmasters taking up Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in the area was discussed with concerns that some agencies were exploiting workers by tying in their jobs with housing. This was said to have created a fear for workers that if they complained about their jobs and were fired, they also faced losing their homes.

Lesley Chester, part of the research team, said: “It’s clear from the study that some people are scared to death of talking about their working conditions for fear of losing their housing with the gangmasters.”

Speaking about exploited workers, Steve Nesbitt, from the union UNITE, said: “These migrant workers have a fear factor and an ignorance of UK law which is why they are targeted.”