An American private prison company, GEO group, is paying asylum seekers detained in Scotland a mere £1 an hour in wages for working at a detention center. GEO runs the Dungavel immigration removal centre in South Lanarkshire, where 249 men and women are being detained while the Home Office decides their asylum applications.
Sixty-four of the detainees are currently working up to thirty hours a week at the prison, doing jobs including cleaning, trash removal, laundry, food service, and others that are vital to the facility’s upkeep. Current calculations estimate that if the prison had paid them the minimum wage, it would have had to pay them £727,607 more.
The Daily Record reports that GEO Group defends its practice, explaining that detainees do not have to pay to live in the prison:
GEO defended the scheme, which is endorsed by the Home Office, telling the Daily Record that “Detainees do not have to pay for their living costs, as do people earning minimum wage in the community.”
The company added: “We usually have a waiting list of detainees wanting to take work opportunities, which shows that the scheme is popular with them.”
Lawyer Toufique Hossain, who is representing some of the asylum seekers in their legal challenge, says his clients have no real choice in this scenario. “Men and women deprived of their liberty, in a position of powerlessness, are forced to carry out unedifying jobs for next to nothing by the circumstances which have been imposed on them. If this isn’t slavery, I don’t know what is,” he said.
The Home Office responded by saying the labor scheme does not constitute forced labor: “The opportunity for detainees to engage in this scheme is entirely voluntary and provides constructive and purposeful activity. Paid activities is not a substitute for the work of trained staff.”
GEO Group is currently embroiled in legal battles in the United States as well, where the attorney general in Washington state is suing GEO for paying immigration detainees $1 in wages, instead of the $11 a day minimum wage.