WORKERS’ organisations fear the pandemic has provided cover for modern slavery even though the Home Office says reports of exploitation dropped a quarter during the lockdown.
Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) said they believe exploitative practices may have got worse over the period as labour inspectors stopped visiting sites or gathering intelligence.
“The number of referrals may have decreased but that’s not because there’s fewer cases,” said Letícia Ishibashi of FLEX.
“During lockdown there were fewer face-to -ace inspections and fewer people self-identified even if they knew the situation they were in.
“We are hearing about unreasonable requests on workers, people failing to keep to health and safety guidelines. This was the case in lockdown and it’s still the case now.
“The more the recession grows and the more it impacts on people the more we will see cases of people accepting exploitative conditions to work because there’s no alternative.”
Modern slavery includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour.
Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, said they expect reports of modern slavery to rise again as the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Housekeepers being told to isolate with their employers or risk losing their jobs, was a common theme, she said.
“This means they’ve had no freedom, no family life of their own.”
Cleaners have been furloughed by their bosses to the value of just two hours’ work a week, when in reality they work far longer, while bosses on furlough themselves have used it as an excuse to lower staff wages, she said.
Between April and June Home Office statistics show labour exploitation was the most common type of exploitation for adult potential victims and the nationalities of those most commonly reported were from Albania and Vietnam.
The Liberal Democrats have demanded that labour inspectors should be classed as key workers so they can continue doing face-to-face visits to premises, making them more visible to people who want to come forwards.
Christine Jardine, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for the Treasury, said: “We must not be fooled into thinking that fewer victims being identified means fewer people are being exploited.
“It means far too many victims are trapped in slavery, unable to escape or access support.
“And it means far too many serious criminals are getting away with it,” she said.
“Ministers must give labour market enforcement agencies the funding they need to carry out proactive inspections, and finally end the hostile environment, which prevents too many victims from coming forward.“
There are five workforce inspection bodies; those who work for the local authority and focus on high street inspections, the Health & Safety Executive who inspect factories and construction sites, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, which is part of central government, and HMRC’s minimum wage team.
The Home Office said the GLAA had continued inspections in high risk areas throughout the pandemic, and to help victims they stopped people leaving modern slavery safehouses between April and August to try and make sure potential victims had somewhere safe to stay.
Adapted from PoliticsHome
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