Tens of thousands of foreign migrants work in the UK care sector, the BBC reports on Radio 4’s ‘Face the Facts’ programme.
But, the programme concludes, many are exploited by the agencies and gangmasters who hire them. Presenter John Waite interviews two care workers who claim to have suffered abuse by employers, and from the regulator who wants the power to regulate the care home industry – where not only the residents are vulnerable to abuse.
The show features a Filipino nurse brought in by an agency in the Philippines which charged her 500,000 Pesos (around £8000) to arrange a job for her in the UK. However, on arrival she was told to report to a different care home, not identified by the BBC, where she was underpaid and forced ‘to sleep on the floor for six months’.
The show did not specify the type of visa she applied for or whether or not her own agency in the Philippines was regulated by the POEA, a Philippine government agency which controls job recruitment and agencies.
Martin Green CEO of ECCA said overseas care workers are still needed in the care sector, where rates of pay are low compared to other industries.
He blamed the government and local authorities, which commissions care in the private sector, for keeping rates paid to providers too low to pay staff higher salaries.
Also featured is a Romanian care worker who obtained employment by registering on a NVQ course and applying for a Yellow Card – a special category of student visa for Romanian and Bulgarian EU workers who can enter the UK freely but do not enjoy the same rights as other European citizens.
She said her employers made her do washing as well as care work and ‘forced her to work 50 to 60 hours per week’ without full pay – which is more than she was allowed and would have left little time for studying. She also said her NVQ training company ‘did not send an assessor’, although she did not say whether or not she attended any classes during her time at the college, which did not take part in the programme.
Face the Facts host John Waite called for agencies to be regulated by a system along the lines of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) which mainly covers companies using temporary workers such as cockle pickers and those operating in the agricultural sector.
A spokesman for the UK government said that Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate (EAS) already regulates the industry and setting up a new layer of regulation would be expensive and cumbersome.
But many would argue that whilst it is impossible for the UK authorities to regulate agencies based overseas, employers could be compelled to source staff only through properly UK registered agencies.
At present employers, including the NHS, often cut out British agencies preferring to ‘go direct’ to overseas agencies as they think this will save them money – and perhaps provide HR staff more opportunity to go on overseas recruitment trip or ‘jollies’ as they are known in the business.
On the all important immigration and visa front, Immigration Advisers in the UK are fully regulated (unlike visa agents in the countries when most of the care staff originate) by the OISC which lays down strict guidelines on fees and professionalism.
Unlike Canadian Embassies, which only accepts immigration applications from Canadian qualified and registered immigration advisers, British Embassies and the UK Border Agency has no such requirement.
Indeed, any visa or travel agency in India, China, Africa or the Philippines can submit a visa application to a British Embassy visa office or assist a person applying for a visa.
Under the recently introduced points based system, immigration advisers have been effectively sidelined with the government encouraging applicants to apply direct, leaving the door wide open for unscrupulous ‘visa fixers’ and unregulated agents to exploit migrants.
Employment Agencies in the UK are not allowed to charge applicants a fee for finding them a job or so called ‘work placement fee’, which is still legal in many countries.
New regulation is not needed to solve the problem of migrants being exploited, just a recognition by the government of their own regulated British professionals, agencies and advisers.
It should also be noted that migrant workers in the UK have the same employment and human rights as their British counterparts and should seek advice if they feel they are not being treated fairly. Many migrants even qualify for state funded Legal Aid for fighting their case, often against the UK government.
Workers can also seek help from trade unions and the free Citizens Advice Bureau centres which operate all over the country. In addition there are many migrant charities which offer free help and advice such as ILPA, JCWI and the government funded Immigration Advisory Service (IAS) see useful links for more details.
As Martin Green said, the care industry is heavily regulated as they are providing care to the most vulnerable members of our society. The UK Border Agency also carries out regular inspections on care homes to check that migrant workers are being employed legally, as featured in the programme.
Whilst there will always be isolated cases of unfair treatment or abuse of staff the vast majority of employers in the sector are ethical, legal and fair mined.
Face the Facts featured two workers, from an industry which employs millions, who seemed to have more of a gripe with the people from their own country. The programme lacked overall direction and omitted many important details leading to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
The BBC seems to have forgotten that UK has the most comprehensive range of services and fair and equal policies for protecting rights of all citizens in the world.
If this were not the case, there would not be thousands of overseas migrant workers queuing up to work here.
You can listen to the full broadcast on the BBC website:
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