Fears over migrant exploitation

Calls were made last night for East Anglia's migrant workers to be given greater protection in the workplace after a trades union revealed a catalogue of exploitation.

Calls were made last night for East Anglia's migrant workers to be given greater protection in the workplace after a trades union revealed a catalogue of exploitation.

The GMB warned that the region's foreign workers were still facing discrimination, including:

Unlawful deductions from their wage packets.

Charges for receiving their P45s.

Dismissal for becoming pregnant.

A Norfolk MP has condemned the discrimination as “dreadful” and has called for rigorous enforcement of the law against employers found to be exploiting workers.

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Union officials are now looking to extend a pioneering course across Norfolk and Suffolk that aims to inform Europeans of their employment rights in the UK, following continued reports of rogue employers and agencies.

Steve Walker, GMB regional project co-ordinator for the Know Your Rights scheme, said staff at the union's Norwich and Thetford offices were constantly being made aware of problems faced by migrant workers.

A dossier of complaints included payments below the minimum wage, no holiday pay, daily charges of up to £30 by employment agencies, unfair dismissal of pregnant employees, breaches of health and safety laws, and one case in which a Portuguese man was charged £150 to obtain a P45 from a former employer.

Despite the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Agency to monitor the agricultural and associated processing and packing sectors, the region's Portuguese and eastern European communities were still being taken advantage of on a regular basis, said Mr Walker.

“Migrant workers are here for a new life and just want to be treated fairly with justice and discretion, and too often some employers and agencies will look to rip these people off,” he said.

“We are now trying to empower them with the language and knowledge of employment rights to protect themselves.

“We have tested the water and found there are the same challenges and issues for Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Latvian, and Lithuanian workers.

“If their English is not very good, they believe whatever their employer tells them and feel powerless to do anything about it. We have come across several cases of exploitation, and there are probably hundreds more we don't know about because of fear of intimidation.”

It is estimated that there are nearly 100,000 foreign workers in the East of England, contributing about £360m a year to the region's economy.

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said: “It is true that there has been dreadful exploitation of migrant workers, and the gangmaster legislation was a step in the right direction.

“There may be a need for more legislation, but, if employers are breaking the law, it may be that existing laws need to be enforced.”

Mark Allison, senior executive at the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), said lots of work was being done by Citizens Advice and agencies to empower migrant workers, but the latest news strengthened calls for an extension of gangmaster legislation into more areas of work.