Increasingly many hotel operations are reliant on migrant workers either as staff or agency workers. Migrant workers are however one of the most vulnerable groups in the labour force. In many ways the situation of low-paid migrant workers is little different from that of other vulnerable workers. However, factors such as immigration status and limited English language skills may exacerbate problems for migrants. The power imbalance between employers and workers common in this type of work can make it difficult for migrants to redress the situation.
The following factors can mean that migrant workers are more vulnerable to exploitation:
- Lack of English language skills
- Lack of knowledge concerning rights and entitlements
- Lack of social support networks
- Irregular or unclear migration status
- Low levels of unionisation
- Distrust of authority and state institutions
- Reliance by labour users on “language gatekeepers”
- Debt – often deliberately engendered to increase leverage over a worker
Common forms of exploitation to which all vulnerable workers, but migrant workers in particular are vulnerable include:
- Lack of clear contracts
- Late payment and deliberate withholding of pay
- Failure to pay proper overtime rates
- Non payment of holiday or sick pay
- Dubious and unexplained deductions from pay
- Excessive charges for services, uniforms, tools, transport and food
- Excessive working hours (this can include undocumented / unpaid hours).
- Excessive expectation of availability for work
- Bogus self employment
- Accommodation tied to work, often substandard and over-priced
- Lack of health and safety training or adequate provision
Implementation of section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009
17. The section 71 offence will apply to all workers, although migrant workers may be particularly vulnerable. They may be vulnerable to coercion and deception for a number of reasons. They may not speak the language, they may be uncertain of their legal status in the UK, they may be distrustful of authority and they may be used to living and working conditions which are unpleasant and hazardous. They may fear being sent back to their country of origin. They may be unwilling for all these reasons to complain of their treatment, and may be even more unwilling to make a formal complaint and bear witness against their exploiters. They may have unwittingly become the victims of criminal gangs, who are threatening their safety and the safety of their families abroad.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission EHRC have a range of information and mini guides for employers to help them operate inclusive workplaces.
Citizens Advice Bureaux offer free advice and information to both UK citizens and foreign nationals.
They have some specific guides for migrants:
Migrant workers – Adviceguide from Citizens Advice
Business in the Community have undertaken work around the responsible role for business in employing migrant workers including producing a voluntary code of conduct.
The Trades Union Congress TUC have a dedicated section for migrant workers as part of its WorkSmart project. Useful information for migrant workers is provided in a variety of languages.
The Unite union have a comprehensive website specifically for migrant workers and those who employ them. In the resources section are some useful multi-lingual Life Guides for migrant workers.