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FPJ Staff

BY FPJ STAFF

How to protect vulnerable workers

Roger Bannister, chief executive of the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), discusses why growers need to stay vigilant to help stamp out mistreatment of seasonal staff

How to protect vulnerable workers

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If you were asked to spot the signs of modern slavery in the workplace, I think you would be forgiven for struggling to answer. After all, slavery was abolished in the UK hundreds of years ago, wasn’t it?

Unfortunately, slavery and labour exploitation continue to this day in Britain, especially in sectors such as horticulture which heavily rely on licensed gangmasters to supply labour.

In the horticultural sector, people are charging predominantly Romanian and Bulgarian workers up to £50 for fruit, flower and vegetable-picking jobs. These seasonal workers often live in unsanitary and overcrowded caravan parks, or in vans. Working conditions are hardly any better.

At some locations there is no pay day, with wages deducted for transport and accommodation. There are also horror stories about workers being repeatedly abused and attacked by their supervisors, simply for doing their job.

But do not despair. We are determined to try to end these inhumane working practices. Since the government granted us new police-style powers last year we have made real progress in the fight against modern slavery and labour exploitation. Over 100 arrests, nearly 200 investigations and a doubling of our workforce is a clear sign of our commitment to tackling this issue. 

However, enforcement alone, especially with our finite resources, is not enough to defeat the exploiters. Engagement and prevention is key to our approach. And this is where you come in.

It is crucially important that you act if you suspect modern slavery or labour abuse. Doing nothing is not an option. We all have a moral and ethical responsibility to prevent people from being exploited.

To give you a bit of guidance, we have six signs that someone is being exploited at work: restricted freedom, behaviour, working conditions, accommodation, finances and appearance.

Restricted freedom covers everything from victims not controlling their passports, having no access to medical care, to threats against family members.

Behaviour can be something innocuous such as workers being unable to speak English fluently. However, it also includes a distrust of the authorities, never leaving their place of work without their boss, and resorting to crime for money or food.

Victims may regularly work excessively long hours, have no days off, be forced to work under certain conditions and lack the ability to choose when or where they work.

If they live in sub-standard accommodation or in groups where they work, they may well be suffering from exploitation. In terms of financial exploitation, victims may receive little or no payment, have no access to their earnings, or be disciplined through punishment and fines.

Appearance is probably the easiest to spot. Has someone suffered injuries consistent with an assault? Have they suffered injuries that could be because someone has control over them? If so, they could be a victim of modern slavery. If you have any suspicions, call our intelligence team on 0800 432 0804 or email intelligence@glaa.gsi.gov.uk.

By working together, we can defeat modern slavery and protect workers from abuse and exploitation.

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