A new report on migrant worker exploitation in the EU has called on governments to respond urgently to widespread labour exploitation practices.
The ‘Protecting migrant workers from exploitation in the EU’ report, released this week by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), drew on the testimony of 237 workers who had experienced ‘severe’ labour exploitation in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and the UK. The victims, who had worked in sectors including hospitality, agriculture, construction and transport, described ‘concentration camp conditions’ and abusive, violent employers. Researchers from the FRA found egregious rights violations including:
- Workers paid as little as €5 per day and threatened with dismissal and deportation when they requested their wages;
- Employees working seven-day weeks, up to 92 hours per week;
- Employers subjecting workers to beatings, threats and sexual abuse;
- Workers forced into sexual exploitation or drug trafficking;
- Employees working with hazardous chemicals given no protective equipment; and
- Workers forced to sleep in shipping containers without access to water or electricity.
The report, aimed at bringing to light the issue of migrant worker exploitation and triggering government action on the problem, made a number of recommendations for actions by the EU’s institutions and Member States, including:
- Preventing deceptive and fraudulent recruitment tactics;
- Enforcing national and EU-wide laws governing employees’ pay, working conditions and hours;
- Reducing the dependency of migrant workers on the sponsorship of employers by providing residence permits and visas which are not tied to a single employer;
- Ensuring workers are aware of all their rights as employees; and
- Providing the necessary training and resources to equip inspection, monitoring and law enforcement bodies with the capacity to identify and address labour exploitation.
Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the FRA, said: “This report shows how exploitation often starts with false promises and fraud, describes the extreme conditions the exploited workers endure; and identifies what facilitate exploitation. But it also outlines what can be done to help exploited workers access justice. We hope that our focus on this issue encourages the responsible national authorities, as well as social partners, to recognise the reality of severe labour exploitation, and to take the steps necessary to create a climate of zero tolerance.”