British care agencies trapping migrant workers in modern slavery

Accused: British care agencies trapping migrant workers in modern slavery

  • Published on
    June 2, 2024
  • Category:
    Debt Bondage, Law & Policy
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Lured by deceptive recruitment practices and false promises, foreign workers are coming to the U.K. to help fill in labor gaps in the care sector. But as shared in The Guardian, British recruitment agencies stand accused of exploiting the foreign workers they recruit and stranding them without the promised jobs. These workers are struggling to pay off debts incurred to get the job and are trapped in modern slavery.

National scandal

Labor shortages in the care sector caused by Brexit and the Covid pandemic have led to a surge in the number of visas being granted to migrant workers in the U.K. Just last year the British government granted 350,000 visas to care workers and their dependents. The care industry relies on these foreign workers in their hundreds of thousands, currently accounting for 75% of all skilled worker visas issued by the U.K. But this surge in migrant care workers seems to have brought with it an uptick in the level of abuse of the system, mostly due to unscrupulous practices and lies by the British recruitment agencies. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is demanding a full government inquiry into the treatment of migrant care workers when parliament returns.

Prof Nicola Ranger, the acting general secretary of the RCN, said:

“The exploitation of migrant care workers is a national scandal…a lack of regulation and enforcement has allowed some employers to profit from the mistreatment of migrants.”

A solicitor at the charity Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit said she sees what looks like indicators of trafficking and modern slavery. She cited the deceptive recruitment tactics and false promises being made to induce migrants to pay large upfront fees.

Locked in a debt trap with no way out

Tellingly, the narratives of exploited care workers all share the same hallmarks of deception. To secure a visa, workers were forced to pay immigration agents, and sometimes the care provider itself, several thousand pounds in fees. On top of guaranteed full-time work, earning above £20,000 a year, agents promised migrants the fees they paid would cover their visa, flights, and a month of accommodation. They were also told the promised salary would quickly allow them to pay the debt incurred for those initial fees. However, shortly before they left for the new job, workers found they had to pay for their flights and find their own accommodation. On top of that, they didn’t get the jobs they were promised on arrival. Most said there was either no work at all or the hours and pay were far less than promised. This left them unable to cover their living expenses in the U.K. or pay back the debt they had incurred, leaving them stranded.

One care worker, Shahid Chera Pparambil, said the debt he had incurred in India was now causing problems for the family he had left behind, with people coming to his house and demanding money from his wife and children, leaving him feeling trapped with almost no options.

Pparambil shared:

“If I go back to India, I don’t have anywhere to live. I don’t have any option other than committing suicide.”

And Pparambil is not alone. The sponsorship system that ties an individual’s visa status to a particular employer means many feel trapped. Workers at one company said instead of the promised jobs in the care sector, they were pressured to work as drivers or cleaners for the same company, sometimes for less than minimum wage. Some workers who complained about the conditions were threatened with their sponsorship being removed and being deported back to India if they didn’t remain silent. Others said Indian-based immigration agents threatened their families back home if they tried to speak out. Some even said they had been reduced to using local food banks and sharing rooms, or even beds, with other immigrants just to survive.

Calling for an urgent government investigation

David Neal, a former government border inspector who says he was fired because he raised the alarm about the care visa system said:

“As soon as we looked at social care visas, we realized there was exploitation going on.”

Neal expressed his upset about the historically harmful government approach of inviting workers to come to the U.K. to help with labor shortfalls and then abandoning them. Lawyers say U.K. care providers may have broken the law if they promised regular full-time work and then offered exploitative or underpaid jobs. Clearly harmful and possibly illegal, whoever wins the upcoming election needs to be under pressure to tackle this issue. Freedom United stands beside The Royal College of Nursing and those calling for an urgent government investigation into exploitation across the social care sector as a priority for whoever wins the general election. As Ranger put it, “Lives are being ruined daily and this work has to start as soon as possible.”

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G Harper
G Harper
7 days ago

All the while .gov sits back twiddling their thumbs collecting fees, backhanders and donations to the cause while many others suffer.

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