The ‘dark side of migration’ - migrant workers discussed in national report

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EXPLOITATION, hardship and homelessness suffered by migrant workers living in Boston were discussed at a meeting last week.

Supermarkets, gangmasters and employers came in the firing line at the launch of a four-year report into forced labour among migrant workers.

The meeting on Friday, held at the Len Medlock Voluntary Centre, looked at the experiences of those in Boston and south Lincolnshire as one of four UK areas examined.

Although there were no reported cases of forced labour here, issues of workplace exploitation, poor accommodation and homelessness were high on the agenda.

The national study was headed by Prof Gary Craig, of Hull University, and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Mr Craig said the report looked at the ‘the dark underside of migration and the issue of forced labour’ but added that this was not to ignore the impact migration has had on local infrastructures.

Making reference to the high number of migrants in the local area, Mr Craig said: “South Lincolnshire is one of the two areas where migrant workers are most concentrated. It is more acute here than anywhere else, except maybe Herefordshire. The rate of migration has slowed down more recently, but continues to be substantial.”

Looking at the exploitation issue with workers in low-pay jobs in the food, factory, catering and cleaning industries, he said: “This area has some of the worst cases of agency abuse. There is homelessness, overcrowding, poor work conditions, and people coming from other countries who are highly over-qualified for the work they do.

“Migrant workers are filling gaps in the labour market that, quite frankly, local people are not willing to fill.”

The increase in the number of gangmasters taking up Homes of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in Boston was discussed with concerns that some agencies were exploiting workers by tying in their jobs with housing. This was said to have created a fear for workers that if they complained about their jobs and were fired, they also faced losing their homes.

Mr Craig said: “The concentration of migrant workers in Boston is a reflection of the number of gangmasters here.”

Lesley Chester, whose research into the matter began in 2003, said: “Gangmasters buying up property and moving in migrant workers has caused terrific resentment with the people who live in the street and have not moved away.

“It is clear from the study that some people are scared to death of talking about their working conditions for fear of losing their housing with the gangmasters.”

Speaking about exploited workers, Steve Nesbitt, from the union UNITE, said: “These migrant workers have a fear factor and an ignorance of UK law which is why they are targeted.”

Some blame was laid with big supermarket chains allegedly turning a blind eye to the problems, yet having the power in some cases to put a stop to forced labour and workplace exploitation.

Mr Nesbitt pointed to the role of supermarkets and the increase of migrant workers filling low-pay jobs in the agriculture and food industries.

Ian Livsey, from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), said: “There is no doubt in my mind that if the supermarkets got a grip they could sort this problem out.”