Report on workplace exploitation faced by undocumented migrants’ group

Report details levels of labour exploitation among them in North of England
28th December 2010: Payments of £25 for a 14-hour working day; apprehensions of being found out resulting in even grievous injuries going unreported; and a life of destitution — these are some of the realities brought to fore in a new report on a group of undocumented migrants living and working in the north of England.
The report produced by the Leeds-based refugee support network, Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS) and researchers based at Liverpool University details some of the experience of workplace exploitation experienced by the group of undocumented migrants living and working in the north of England.

PAFRAS report details levels of labour exploitation amongst undocumented workers in the North of England.

The report shows what happens when some employers are gifted the opportunity to apply more downward pressure on wages and working conditions.

Quoting the contents of the report, Migrants’ Rights Network says: `The Wages of Fear: Risk, Safety and Undocumented Work – which will shortly be available – looks at the experiences 14 asylum seekers who had been refused protection as refugees. 

`Their subsequent residence in the UK placed them in the position of having no right to take employment, with eight losing all cash support for their subsistence from the Home Office, and five receiving the £38 per week paid to people under Section 4 provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

`The harsh reality of prolonged destitution forced the people in this group into work in sectors utilising casual employees, with employers who are often aware of the irregular status of the people they take on, and who exploit this to their own advantage.  

`The main advantages unscrupulous employers get from employing migrants who don’t have the right papers come from the lower levels of remuneration these workers are obliged to accept, and also from non-compliance with regulations which protect the health and safety of employees.

`The people in the PAFRAS report reported payments of £25 for a 14-hour working day, with the prospect of a £5 deduction of a half hour lateness as a typical experience. 

`Irregular payment will also mean that substantial sums will accrue to the worker, which an employer might choose not to pay at the end of a stint of employment.

`An Ethiopian informant tells of being owed £600 by one employer in this way.  On appealing for the wages to be paid he was told that this would only happenif Home Office documents could be provided proving a right to work.  The impossibility of providing these meant the worker lost what was due to him.

`Similarly levels of vulnerability exist on health and safety issues.  The fear that a complaint will lead to the worker being reported to the immigration authorities often means that even grievous injuries will not be reported, even though the protection provided by health and safety regulations extend to all workers – legal or otherwise.

`One of the group reports being exposed to a chemical which brought on a painful skin rash.  The only course of action she felt was available to her was quitting the job.

`An Iranian worker tells of an incident in his workplace which involved a head injury.  His employer was not even prepared to allow medical assistance on site to deal with the injury; the worker was required to make his own way to a local hospital.

`The authors of the report acknowledge that the evidence has been drawn from a relatively small sample of undocumented workers, but defend it on the basis that there have been so few attempts to chart the experiences of undocumented migrants in the workplace it serves as a good indicator of the extent of exploitation.

`In fact the grounds for believing that exploitative working conditions is widespread is available from very good studies conducted in other countries which operate severe similarly sanctions against migrants whose papers are held not to be in order by the authorities.

`A lot of this evidence has been brought together by the international NGO PICUM and can be read in the series of reports it produces as well as its regular newsletter.

The attempt to deal with undocumented migrants in the workforce has now been pursued by the UK authorities as a serious endeavour since the spring of 2008, when fines levied at employers were ramped up the £5,000 -£10,000 level for each irregular worker found to be in workplace. In addition the UK Border Agency stepped up its strategy of workplace raids. 

`The Home Office felt it could justify these measures at the time by suggesting that they were intended to deal with exploitation, implying that the workers themselves would be the main beneficiaries of the measure.  The Home Office policy document, Enforcing the Rules, published in 2007, cited its motivation for pursuing tougher action as arsing from the;

 “…evidence that some of those who are working illegally earn below the minimum wage, donot pay tax and in some cases may be doing dangerous work that breaks health and safetyregulations. Employers who look to employ illegal migrant workers do so because they want to avoid providing minimum standards, such as the National Minimum Wage and paid holidays. This has a high potential for harm to the workers involved.”

`The report from PAFRAS indicates that if ever the authorities where naïve to believe that tougher policies would bear down on labour exploitation and settle the hash of cynical and abusive employers, then we are beginning to accumulate clear evidence on exactly how wrong the have been.

`PAFRAS and their Liverpool University collaborators have provided us with a valuable example of how the experiences of a group of migrants in stressed circumstances can contribute to our knowledge of how immigration management system operate in the total context of other areas of social life.

`The challenge is for other partnerships and networks across the country to do the same thing, so the evidence gleaned from 14 people becomes one part of a broader picture painted by thousands’.

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