At FLEX, we know that labour exploitation is part of a spectrum of working conditions ranging from decent conditions, through abuses such as underpayment and culminating at the sharp end in criminal forms of exploitation such as forced labour and other modern slavery offences.
While no one is inherently vulnerable to exploitation, some people experience heightened risk as a result of their personal (e.g. gender, age), situational (e.g. migration status, employment type) and/or circumstantial (e.g. economic destitution) vulnerabilities.
This new briefing assesses the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable groups of workers:
To do this, ‘No worker left behind: protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation during and after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’ draws on interviews with workers and frontline services and proposes emergency measures to ensure all workers are protected against financial destitution and exploitation while the UK works to contain the virus and its impact.
It finds that:
Frontline organisations are already seeing low-paid workers at risk of losing their income entirely. Consistent low pay means that these workers often do not have savings to act as a buffer and are at high risk of destitution:
“The people we support, they work in low-paid casual jobs. This means they don’t have a buffer – they don’t have savings to fall back on under the current situation. We’re seeing widespread loss of work, including people who are being dismissed unlawfully. We had clients with severe respiratory problems being told they should no longer come to work because the company didn’t have protective equipment to protect them from the virus. The same thing is happening to pregnant women – they are no longer being called for jobs because they are at high risk of infection.”
Workers experiencing pandemic-related issues and risks included security guards, nannies, domestic workers, cleaners, delivery drivers, couriers and supermarket workers. High demand for agricultural labour coupled with low-paid workers’ desperate need for alternative income could lead to a rise in exploitation.
Without the UK ensuring all workers have access to financial support and are protected from destitution or worsening conditions, we will likely see a surge in cases of exploitation in coming months, including of modern slavery offences.
The UK must ensure all workers have access to financial support so that no one feels pressured to accept exploitative employment to keep themselves from becoming destitute during this pandemic.
Based on the needs of workers currently not covered by protections and/or at high risk of harm, and aside from exploring emergency income support for all workers, the briefing recommends the following measures: