Today FLEX and the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG)* publish the report ‘Opportunity Knocks: improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting’, along with a complementary executive summary.
Building on interviews with workers, this research helps us to better understand the barriers documented and undocumented migrants face reporting workplace abuse and exploitation to the police and labour inspectors in the UK. The report also introduces a detailed framework to analyse how information about peoples’ immigration status becomes available to the Home Office following workers’ interaction with police and labour market enforcement agencies.
The table on page 27 of the report maps the information flows from labour inspectorates and the Metropolitan Police to Immigration Enforcement.
To address these issues, LEAG is calling for the introduction of secure reporting systems that guarantee workers will not face immigration consequences when they report problems at work.
International examples discussed in the report show that secure reporting systems are not only feasible, but effective in making workplaces and communities safer from exploitation, and in increasing trust between workers and the agencies created to safeguard them.
While this research was carried out before the COVID-19 outbreak, secure reporting systems are more vital than ever to prevent an increase in modern slavery offences during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The Coronavirus crisis is having a particularly strong impact on workers who are already at higher risk of labour abuses and exploitation, such as those in low-paid and insecure employment, migrants and women, as shown in FLEX’s recent briefing No Worker Left Behind: protecting low-paid workers from exploitation during and after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Low-paid migrant workers reported being pressured to work longer hours under unsafe conditions, denied statutory entitlements and threatened with dismissal if they refused to comply with employers’ demands.
Migrants are also facing financial hardship related to mass dismissals in sectors like hospitality, where they make up the majority of the low-paid workforce, and due to their minimal entitlement to government safety nets. Those in desperate need of a new/additional source of income to avoid destitution are likely to move into sectors with high demand for workers at the moment, such as agriculture and food retail. The urgency with which they need work will leave them unable to say ‘no’ to abusive and exploitative working conditions.
Therefore, it is more imperative than ever that the UK introduces secure reporting mechanisms to ensure that migrants feel safe to report problems at work, during and in the aftermath of the pandemic on a permanent basis.
*The Labour Exploitation Advisory Group is a group of experts from ten organisations working to prevent human trafficking for labour exploitation. LEAG is comprised of Focus on Labour Exploitation (which also provides its secretariat), Latin American Women’s Rights Service, East European Resource Centre, Unite the Union, Ashiana Sheffield, British Red Cross, Kalayaan, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Praxis Community Projects and Equality.