Exposed – Modern Day slavery in Bristol, UK. NHRO has been investigating potential failures within the UK Governments Foreign worker schemes, and the findings are pretty shocking. It appears the Health Care Visa and sponsorship scheme is being used as an explpotative loopfole to get cheap labout into the Health Care service quickly, potentially putting workers rights at risk.
No doubt well intentioned and useful to help the Health Sector this Scheme allows UK companies to recruit foreign workers from around the world to fill skills and workers gaps in the UK Health Care Sector. The Health Care VIsa scheme is open to abuse, primarily due to the reduced workers rights element of the scheme, This appears to of resulted in exploitation of some workers coming to the UK on the scheme and entering roles which require travel time, primarily Home Care mobile roles.
Many of these workers are not paid travel time between appointments and can work 15 hour days for 9 hours pay. Following recent investigations by NHRO in Bristol we believe there are flaws in how workers are being treated under the Visa system which is resulting in unfair treatment towards migrant workers, and erosion their employment rights, effectively splitting UK and Foreign workers rights.
This is a somewhat complex legal area as all British Worker employment rights do not necesarily apply to Health Care Visa holders, which adds to the problem of resolving issues when gross unfairness’ are found.
The issues discussed here likely come under scope of The Modern Slavery Act 2015 and we took action by informing the Home Office, GLAA and Avon and Somerset Police, reporting that Care Providers are potentially abusing the rights of workers on the Health Care VISA system, to the detriment of their health and wellbeing, by not paying traveling time between appointments, excessive accomodation costs and unfair deductions from earnings.
The Police will take no further action as they class this an employment issue, not Modern Slavery. The Home Office refer to Charity Organisations which do not have any power. The GLAA is perhaps the government department best placed to deal with this, and we emplore them to investigate further. Alternatively it will be resolved through ACAS as an employment issue which may later need to go to an Employment tribunal.
The worry is that these bad practices are replicated around rhe UK. What is happening in Bristol is likely the tip of an iceberg in the Home Care sector. Potentially thousands of workers could be put into poverty traps. When potential instances of Human Traficking, Modern Slavery, and bad working practices are identified, every UK citizen has a responsibility to speak out.
The issue is that foreign care workers, from all over the world, are being brought to the UK on Health Care Visa work schemes and end up in potential Modern Slavery conditions as Mobile Home Carers. At the very least what we have found ammounts to exploitation of foreign workers, and potential racial discrimination, by British companies within the UK care sector.
It costs at least £400 for a UK company to sponsor a foreign worker to be allowed to enter to work in the UK Care Sector under the Health Care Visa Sceme. It appears companies are clawing this money back from the workers on a monthly basis, so its not truely a sponsoship scheme as sposorship suggests no pay back. Flight costs also add to the burden which must be paid back.
The Home Care sector is under great strain due to already low wages and staff shortages. Unfortunately, the workers which are being brought to the UK are open to exploitation by employers who are able to pay them less money and offer less favorible employment conditions than their British Counterparts. IF motivated by profit this could ammount to Human Trafficking.
Once here these workers have sometimes been asked to sign new contracts after starting employment, negatively changing their terms, and face additional burdens with deductions from pay for visa and flight costs having to be paid back, and inflated accomodation costs hitting monthly earnings.
So after getting to the UK they earn less than expected, infact less than promised, and therfore find themselves in a Modern Slavery situation under scope of the 2015 Act.
Although we understand minimum wage is slightly lower for foreign workers than UK workers on these schemes, and normal employment rights do not always apply to such foreign workers, problems occur when foreign careworkers are entering Home Care roles, traveling between clients as home helpers, doing 20 minute appointments then traveling to the next appointment.
They are not getting paid for travelling time between clients, a practice which was commonplace for UK workers some time ago, but recent Tribunals have confirmed is a potentially unlawful practice especially should it take hourly wage below minimum wage. Logically this should be applied to foreign workers, though whether the law is there has not been firmly established, as normal worker rights do not apply the same. It does show the need for parity beween all workers rights.
If foreign Care Workers are in a care home Hospital or fixed place setting they get paid normally for every hour, its just the traveling care role which is not being paid correctly, taking its toll on the workers involved, both emotionally physically and financially.
Many such workers are working 15 hour days yet only being paid for example 9 hours (unpaid traveling time via bus, walking, or lift in other vehicle). Add an unpaid 1 hour mealbreak to the mix and the earning potential reduces further.
Imagine having to wallk around for 15 hours a day and not get paid a fair wage, infact not being paid what your contract said you should.
This means some shifts come out below the relevant work scheme minimum wage. And in addition, and perhaps equally shockingly, foreign workers are provided accommodation by the employer, some distance away from the main company office, being charged £400-500 per month to share a room with others.
The accomodation provided to some foreign workers appears to be at an inflated rate, so there is accommodation as well as wage exploitation..
As UK Care Workers now appear to have have right to be paid traveling time between appointments (or at least the minimum wage for total hours worked) the foreign workers should, if only on a moral basis, have this right too.
The current application of the foreign care worker scheme may be shown to be exploitative throughout the UK, and if it can be shown that Modern Slavery situations are being caused, many companies may have serious legal issues over the coming months and years.
Whilst we do not want to believe that any company would intentionally exploit people, and we would like to think this is all unwitting, in reality, these practices can only be seen as being motivated by Profit and Financial Gain, further bringing them under the varying definitions of Modern Slavery..
We have not named any companies involved due to potential for future legal proceedings.
NHRO is looking to work with Journalists, Organisations and Members of Parliament to ensure all unfair and potentially unlawful practices are not allowed to become commonplace within UK VISA work schemes.
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Peter Nunn – NHRO
UPDATE 28/02/2023 – Issues have been logged with HMRC, GLAA and MP Jacob Rees Mogg, we are awaiting further updates. Seems likely National Minimum wage issue. Will update again soon.