• Sunday, March 03, 2024

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Foreign care workers facing widespread exploitation, union says

HIGH LITTLETON, UNITED KINGDOM – JANUARY 07: Sue Gardiner manages to deliver meals-on-wheels to elderly residents of High Littleton on January 7, 2010 in Somerset, England. Because of the extreme weather, the hot meal service has had to rely on council employees with 4×4 vehicles to help with deliveries to elderly people in rural areas. However, many other social service operators are struggling to provide normal care levels in the current weather conditions. Extreme weather warnings have been issued across England as heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have caused further disruption on roads and led to the closure of hundreds of schools and airports. According to the Met Office the latest Arctic cold snap has made this Britain�s coldest winter for 30 years. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Foreign care workers invited to the UK to address staffing shortages are facing severe exploitation, with some being paid as little as £5 an hour while being charged exorbitant fees, The Guardian reported.

A trade union, Unison, highlighted cases where workers were paid below the legal minimum wage, faced unexpected fees, and feared deportation after losing their jobs due to contract losses or company closures.

A worker from Botswana, assisted by healthcare union Unison, disclosed working in domiciliary care for extensive hours (6am to 10pm) six days a week but received payment significantly below the legal minimum.

After losing the council care contract, the Wiltshire company terminated her employment, causing her distress over potential deportation.

Similarly, a Cambridgeshire company, recruiting foreign workers, closed last week, prompting concerns among employees about deportation.

The union highlighted another instance where an employer demanded £4,000 for “training costs” from a migrant care worker attempting to switch to an NHS job.

Additionally, a separate care worker faced undisclosed administration fees, including a £395 charge for a “cultural induction.”

Amid reports on immigration measures, the incidents have surfaced involving the Home Office’s consideration of options, including limiting workers’ dependants or confining them to one relative.

Skilled worker visas were extended by the Home Office in February 2022 to include foreign care workers, aiming to address the 165,000 social care vacancies impacting the UK’s most vulnerable population.

Most recruits, as indicated by Skills for Care, a government-funded agency, originate from Nigeria, India, and Zimbabwe.

Since the inclusion of care workers in the shortage occupation list by the Home Office, 14% of care workers in England are from non-EU countries (excluding the UK), while 7% are from the EU.

Unison’s general secretary, Christina McAnea, emphasised that migrant care staff are crucial for the care system, stating that demonising these workers will not alleviate the social care crisis.

In the year leading to June 2023, approximately 78,000 individuals obtained visas to work in social care. However, under the current regulations, if a worker is terminated or if their employer shuts down, they are required to secure a new sponsoring employer within 60 days or risk deportation.

This setup grants employers added leverage over workers, prompting Unison to advocate for the government to extend the timeframe for finding new employment.

Annie, a care worker from Botswana who arrived early under the scheme, revealed that her private agency only paid her for the hours spent directly caring for clients in their homes in Wiltshire and Somerset.

This meant she worked exhaustive 15-hour days, encompassing waiting times and travel between clients, yet she was paid for only about six hours.

Additionally, the employer withheld a significant portion of her wages for three consecutive months, reimbursing her at a later time, and also obliged her to share accommodation with a stranger.

Annie mentioned living with anxiety since her arrival, citing issues with trusting anyone due to the fear instilled in her from the time she arrived.

With a new job but uncertainty about visa sponsorship, she faces the looming 60-day deadline this week, prompting concerns about her ability to remain in the UK.

She has sold many possessions from her home in Botswana.

McAnea said “Overseas care workers have been encouraged to come here to support those most in need, only for some employers to treat them as expendable.

She adds, “Ministers must stop being complicit in allowing this abuse to happen. The government needs to reform immigration rules, not make them more draconian.”

A care worker from the Philippines revealed feeling disregarded after her care company went into administration, expressing that she and her colleagues were treated as if they no longer mattered.

Speaking to her union, she described the overseas staff feeling “confused and manipulated,” expressing that the closure was kept secret until the last moment to exploit their services until they were deemed unnecessary.

A spokesperson for the government lays emphasis on a zero-tolerance policy toward labour market abuse, highlighting that action is taken against sponsors found engaging in exploitative practices, including revocation of their license.

The spokesperson added, that the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority collaborates with law enforcement agencies to identify illegal working, and those found operating unlawfully can face potential prosecution or removal from the sponsorship register.

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