Shame of modern migrant slaves'
PUBLISHED: 14:32 29 March 2007 | UPDATED: 13:54 04 May 2010
AS the nation marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, migrant workers in East Cambridgeshire are being subjected to intimidation and exploitation for as little as £1.50 an hour. Migrants across the district, primarily from Eastern Europe,
AS the nation marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, migrant workers in East Cambridgeshire are being subjected to intimidation and exploitation for as little as £1.50 an hour.
Migrants across the district, primarily from Eastern Europe, are working in an underground employment market that is depriving them of basic rights such as a contract, grievance procedures and holidays.
Ely Citizens Advice Bureau says the office receives between two and three complaints from migrant workers each week about poor treatment from a minority of employers who are illegally exploiting large numbers of unregistered workers.
Bureau manager Beverley Howard said: "The issues that come in include some employers disregarding employment legislation on disciplinary and grievance procedures, lack of contracts, payslips and poor regard for statutory entitlements such as holiday pay."
The regularity of the complaints suggests a significant proportion of the 2,000 Eastern European migrants in East Cambridgeshire are being unfairly treated.
"In a recent case, a Lithuanian client was paid only £1.50 per hour - as she was paid in cash there was no proof," Mrs Howard said.
"Unfortunately she had also not registered for work which means she had no recourse to employment tribunal process or the benefits system."
The abuse of workers has come to light during an Ely Standard investigation into the effectiveness of the recently-formed Gangmaster Licensing Authority, founded to protect employees from unscrupulous employers.
"In general the bureau has been disappointed with the Gangmaster Licensing Authority as it seems more concerned about the penalties for not having a license than breaching the conditions of the license, but as a new organisation hopefully things will improve."
She said there were serious concerns that the number of complaints reflected only a small percentage of the actual situation.
"Some workers may be concerned that if they make a fuss they could lose their jobs and therefore their income," Mrs Howard said.
Jim Paice, MP for south-east Cambridgeshire, said: "It is depressing that as we celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery its modern incarnation is occurring in the district; the big employers in my constituency look after their migrant workers very well, but we must be concerned with the minority who do not.
"The authorities must clamp down on unscrupulous employers who exploit migrant workers but it is equally important that those who come from abroad looking for work register so that they can enjoy the protection of employment legislation."
The CAB urged migrant workers to register and find out more on 08705 210224 or by visiting www.workingintheuk.gov.uk
While a minority of employers are exploiting workers from abroad, it is a very different story at G's Marketing.
For 15 years, Sharon Cross has overseen a scheme at the vegetable growers' Barway site that has seen thousands of youngsters take up seasonal work with the firm.
Around 500 workers stay in purpose-built dormitories at the site, where they have access to an internet café, gym facilities, a free laundry service and regular social events.
"We do try to keep everything right and we have very strict guidelines," Ms Cross said.
"There's not only the minimum wage, there is the agricultural wages order, which sets out what we should pay, but we are very public about our pay rates."
The workers, many of whom are students from European agricultural universities, earn a target wage of around £240 a week, which is paid directly into a current account set up on their arrival.
Ms Cross said all information, including home office employment guidance and health and safety information, is translated for visiting workers so they fully understand the situation.