South Holland migrant workers urged to become whistle-blowers

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MIGRANT workers trapped in ‘slave labour’ are being urged to blow the whistle on South Holland’s crooked bosses.

Interviewers are now talking to Eastern Europeans in this area who suffer injustices at work, such as beatings or threats of them, having passports confiscated or seeing their wages illegally slashed.

Researchers are also looking at so-called “debt bondage” – a financial prison where workers are stuck with a big bill they cannot pay off to an employer for things like their fare here and being found a job and somewhere to live.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is funding a project called “The Experience of Forced Labour in the UK” and the research is being led by the University of Bristol.

The work is focusing on Eastern Europeans who have been severely exploited by bosses.

Lincolnshire freelance social researcher Lesley Chester, who manages a team of three interviewers, urged migrant workers to report their suffering.

Workers who come forward are guaranteed their names will be kept secret as will the names of their bosses.

Mrs Chester said: “Here we are in the 21st Century and we are still coming across instances in our part of the world where people are being exploited to the level of slavery.

“I think we really have got to do whatever we can to stamp it out but we need to know about it to be able to combat it.”

Interviewers speak languages including Polish, Russian, Latvian, Slovakian, Lithuanian, Belorussian and Ukranian.

Mrs Chester – a long-time campaigner against exploitation – said: “I came across a case where one lady looked to have a decent, living wage of £149.

“But by the time the gangmaster had taken money off for accommodation, food, transport and work clothes, it came down to £19.

“There was no tax or National Insurance involved.”

Interviewers are targeting four main language groups, Polish, Latvian, Bulgarian and Russian.

One of the interviewers, Latvian national Alona Tirzite is an officer with Lincolnshire County Council. But she experienced hardships in the UK agricultural industry when she first came here as a student in 2001.

Miss Tirzite knows of at least one beating in South Holland – when a migrant worker asked to leave accommodation provided by his employer.

She said he was beaten up and had his belongings thrown out as an example to the rest of the people in the house. A hotline has been set up for migrant workers to report abuse – 07864 967176 – and they will be able to speak to someone in their own language.