Yesterday saw the release of a report into Labour practices in the UK food industry, some large producers of which are based in Lincolnshire. The Joseph Rowntree foundation spent time interviewing migrant workers and researching their experiences across the country. You can read their report here.
The key points they discovered were:
- The most notable and unexpected forced labour practice was the ‘underwork scam’ – recruiting too many workers and then giving them just enough employment to meet their debt to the gang-master.
- A significant proportion of interviewees paid fees to come to the UK and secure work, creating indebtedness and dependence.
- Workers were threatened and bullied. Racist or sexist language was sometimes used in the workplace, underpinning a climate of fear. Some employers used fear of dismissal to ensure that workers remained compliant and deferential.
- Productivity targets and workplace surveillance were excessive; workers felt they were treated like machines rather than people and given targets that were often impossible to meet. Informal employment brokers frequently provided workers with tied accommodation, which was often sub-standard; workers thus experienced exploitation at home as well as in the workplace. Losing their job might also mean losing their home.
- It is difficult to say whether the exploitation reported was severe enough to constitute forced labour, but the evidence indicated that employers were infringing many rights.
- Low-wage migrant workers appear especially vulnerable to forced labour, despite most of those interviewed having the right to live and work in the UK. The intensity of work in the food industry, driven by economic pressures throughout the supply chain, contributes to such exploitation
Obviously, exploitation of migrant workers is something that should be condemned and I wholeheartedly do.
It is important that all workers are protected from exploitation, regardless of their nationality. Workers need to see that the work they do pays the bills, allows them to afford a better quality of life and enables them to provide for their family and children. Their work should not go to paying off gang-masters, living in substandard and dangerous properties, and fighting the daily battle of poverty. At the end of the day, work should pay.