This is a selection of some of Hsiao-Hung's news articles and features...

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How African migrants are exploited in Italy, The Guardian
Salvini and the racist immigration policy of Italy's new government is giving green light to racial violence, Open Democracy
Racism in the frontier region, Novara Media
Happy 18th birthday! You're Out, Open Democracy
The reporting of working lives: ethical and practical problems of subterfuge, Feminist Review
Forced separation: the impact of the government's family migration rules, Open Democracy
What does China's 18th Congress mean for the working-class?
China's ruling elite can't ignore the growing calls for change , The Guardian
Belonging Nowhere, South China Morning Post
China's migrant workers and civil society development, Open Democracy
China's rural migrants deserve more respect from city dwellers, The Guardian
Defending Diversity, Diva magazine
China: "Miracle" and misery, Socialist Review
Migrant workers are ripe for exploitation, The Guardian
China's migrant workers want rights, not handshakes, The Guardian
Good things don't come to those who wait in Chinatown, Socialist Review
Migrant construction workers: Overlooked and in danger, The Guardian
Convicted gangmaster described day of tragedy, The Guardian
Tell the family to pray for me, I'm dying, The Guardian
Public inquiry: Barbara Storey runs a helpline for Polish workers in Hampshire, The Guardian
Girlfriend blames police as racist as killers jailed, The Guardian
Below is an article that the newspapers were too scared to print. Why? Because whoever was breaking the law COULD SUE! Now that all the allegations can be backed up, we’ll publish the unpublishable!
- by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Ring. Ring. A man opened the door of a terrace house on Broadlands Road in Southampton. “What do you want?” he spoke with a Polish accent. He was the first willing respondent found in the four houses that the GLA (Gangmasters Licensing Authority) enforcement team has targeted. “We are from the GLA. We are here to investigate your company and we’d like to talk to you,” said one of the enforcement officers. “Work is no good. Many problems at the agency,’ the Polish man replied reluctantly. ‘Sorry I can’t talk to you more.’ He shut the door.
“Workers just don’t want to talk,” the frustrated team kept saying the whole morning. This was the first time the GLA conducted unannounced inspections on accommodation provided by Saphire Trading Ltd who has been granted a gangmaster license since 2006.
GLA investigator P undertook another part of the “surprise visit”, to Saphire Trading’s office in Southhampton and the labour user site at Barfoots of Botley Ltd, Sussex’s largest sweetcorn farm and Europe’s largest sweetcorn pack-houses. A Tesco rep was also present. Two other GLA officers planned to inspect the work site and talk to workers working in the fields. But Barfoots said: “There’s no workers out there today.”
Back in late 2005, in a Polish association in Southampton, distressed men and women were queuing to speak and seek help from community advisors about employment issues. Some were holding payslips in their hands, asking why the pay on paper was different from the actual wages they received. Others asked about what to do with employers who withheld their IDs.
This was just about a year after new EU workers were allowed into Britain in May 2004. Across the east and south-east of England, the Poles were entering food-processing and agriculture as well as hospitality and construction. They are employed through the huge networks of a recruitment world in which some suppliers of labour remain underground businesses, while others become licensed later yet flaunt the employment rules.
Over the years, Poles have become the largest migrant group in Britain, numbering anywhere between 450,000 to 750,000. While mainstream Britain talked of “integration” and the need for new migrants to “fit in”, there’s been little political will and resources to bring them closer.
Confronted with violation of their employment rights, the new migrant workers felt they had nowhere else to turn to except their own community. Here, some from the existing community of first-generation Poles might lend a helping hand to the newcomers. It was here that I heard repeatedly about abuse and exploitation of a labour provider named Saphire Trading Ltd, best known for employing hundreds of Poles to work on farms and salad and flower-processing plants in Sussex and Hampshire for years (it traded under other names until four years ago). Saphire Trading’s largest labour user is Barfoots.
Saphire Trading was audited on December 8 2005 by Temporary Labour Working Group (TLWG), a consortium of retailers, growers, suppliers, labour providers and unions, which was set up to prepare businesses for the forthcoming gangmasters licensing system. The audit was undertaken against the requirements of the ETI Code of Practice for Labour Providers.
It was based on 25 sample interviews of five groups of workers. It said Saphire Trading received hourly rate of £6.31 from Barfoots for the picking and packing work. The audit results, released by GLA under the Freedom of Information Act, say that there were six major non-conformances, including: No driving licenses available for verification; 15 out of 25 workers sampled only have the old statement (not a genuine contract) which does not document their terms and conditions; no evidence of holiday pay being paid; insufficient records available of hours worked by workers in order to verify monthly pay. With all these serious breaches of employment rules, Saphire Trading passed the TLWG audit.
In February 2006 when I went to interview Polish men and women employed by an exploitative gangmaster in Southampton, the name “Saphire Trading” was heard again. But at this time, there was no system in place to stop gangmaster exploitation. In fact, the media hype about the number of incoming EU workers was blurring the significance of real issues such as employment rights. Thus the growing feeling of helplessness and fear among so many Polish workers – they fear isolation in a hostile environment. They fear telling their stories because they fear reprisals. Most of all, they fear losing their jobs. With few resources here and usually a family to keep in Poland, they clung desperately to any job they can keep. No one wanted to make noises.
In April 2006, Anna and Agnieszka, both aged in their late 20s, came to Britain to work, aiming to earn enough to afford a house in Poland. Their first placement was with Saphire Trading. “The company recruits from Poland – they have a Polish agent called Michal recruiting there,” according to Anna. “Each week, they got seven or eight new workers in from Poland. Workers paid £200-250 to register for work.”
“I was never given a contract during the 18 months of working there [Barfoots],” she tells me. Agnieszka says it was the same with her. Instead, Saphire Trading produced a contract which showed it, the labour provider, as having signed on their behalf. The women say they’d never seen the document. Later, when Anna challenged Saphire, it provided her with the contract after she had left the job. It stipulated four weeks’ paid holidays, a 48-hour maximum working week and the national minimum wage, none of which were practiced, they say.
Their colleague Adam, aged 40, has been working through Saphire since 2001. Saphire was an old horse in the field of labour supply. Under a different name, it had supplied Natures Way at the time when they were paying merely £3 hourly to its then sans-papier Polish workers (who were then deported but the company stayed intact).
“I was an office cleaner in Poland, earning £35 a week. I believed that I will be able to improve my living standard by coming to work in Britain,” he says. “When I arrived at the workplace, I was given a document – I didn’t understand its content at the time but was told to sign it.”
His job was mainly picking sweetcorn on the farm at Barfoots. “My wage was always paid in cash. Initially it was £100 per week, then raised to £120. (It was increased to £180 per week since March 2007, for working 55-60 hours. That is, £3-£3.20 an hour.)”
Anna and Agnieszka mainly work on Barfoots’ processing and packing line. “We work up to 80 hours per week,” says Anna. They were often sent to work at 4pm and finished around midnight, only to be sent on a second shift a few hours later, at 5am. At other times they started working 6am and did a second shift at 4pm. So they worked up to 16 hours a day. “For this, we were paid £3.25 per hour between April and September 2006. Our wage increased to £3.75 afterwards.”
Unlike Adam, they received payslips from Saphire. But the slips, apparently meant for official consumption, did not include items such as deductions for transport (£4 a day) – only the national minimum wage which the women say they never, in fact, received from the company.
Gangmasters who underwent a TLWG audit were able to ask GLA to verify that it was successful. Saphire Trading’s pre-verification score was 50 points. The rule was that those who were successful, i.e. they scored less than 30 points in the verification visit, they did not have to have a GLA inspection to be granted a license.
The GLA conducted a verification visit to the Saphire’s office on April 25 2006. As a result of the visit, the score was reduced to eight points. The verification summary report points out two major non-compliances – no evidence of holiday pay and insufficient records of hours worked to verify monthly pay – and one critical non-compliance, i.e., seatbelt missing in minibus (while driving licenses aren’t available). The company met all other requirements to be granted a license, according to the GLA report, and on July 25 2006 the license was approved.
In August 2006, I went back Southampton to interview a number of Polish parents about their children’s education. Most of them talked about discrimination at school. Some were cheerful about the forthcoming forming of a Polish children’s football team, seeing it as a good sign of inter-community relations.
During the visit, I heard people asking about the prospect of certain gangmasters getting caught as the Gangmasters Licensing Act – which the parliament passed in 2004 in response to the Morecambe Bay tragedy earlier that year in which 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned as a direct result of gangmaster negligence - was to be put into effect that October. “Saphire Trading” was once again on everyone’s lips. Now the law will be enforced. Something will be done! Something must be done! People said. But who was going to be the mouse to put a bell on the cat?
A Polish woman helped me set up a number of interviews with workers. A man who was working for Saphire Trading shook his head as he described it: “I worked 12 hours a day, for six days a week. I was paid £3.25 per hour, in cash. Never any payslips. No one dared to ask questions.” Another worker, Piotr, told that 70% of the Polish workers had to pay £200-£300 to get the job.
“The workplace is like a concentration camp,” a woman said.
That September, a Polish woman who is a T&G member reported to a community association about her experience of a staged inspection interview at Barfoots that year. “A day before the inspection, the boss [Saphire Trading] gave us questions and answers to prepare. We weren’t told which authorities were the inspection for.” Later, I met a frightened Polish man who told me exactly the same story about the inspection. “We were paid to sit in an inspection interview, £50 each. If we don’t do it, we would be sacked.”
But the problem remained: No one dared to be named or give witness to what happened. There was no chance of exposing the gangmaster without workers’ testimony. Ugly affairs were once again buried. In autumn 2006, I reported the basic findings about Saphire Trading to the GLA. According to GLA investigator P, the authority has received complaints and reports from workers years ago. “We’ve heard of workers getting paid to do inspection interviews.” But what stopped the Authority from investigating the case then?
Workers’ statements urged me to visit their workplace at Barfoots in October 2006. With the GLA up and running, it was now illegal for a business to provide labour to agriculture, horticulture, food-processing and packing industries if the labour provide lacks a gangmaster permit issued by the licensing authority.
Gangmasters found guilty of operating without permission face a jail sentence of up to 10 years or a £10,000 fine or both. Since December 2006, it is also a criminal offence for a business in these specified industries to use an unlicensed labour provider. Those who run the business could face a prison sentence of up to six months, a £5,000 fine, or both.
As I got to the Barfoots site, I saw Polish men and women trudging back to their minibuses at the end of their shift. The setting sun was shining on their exhausted faces. It was difficult to stop them to talk, as they all seemed fearful of the presence of their supervisors from Saphire Trading. At last, a man stopped. He told me that Saphire Trading – by this time a licensed gangmaster – does its recruitment in Poland via two agencies there and there’s a regular stream of Poles coming every week. “Some of us do picking. Most of us do processing and packing. We work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for £3.25 per hour, paid in cash,” he confirmed what I knew. “The cash was given to us in an envelope, with our surnames on it. No one has received payslips or any written record of this wage. And we have to pay £2 per day for transport.”
“They [Saphire Trading] took photos of us and got us to sign documents in English. I didn’t know what the document says but was told to sign it.”
“They [Saphire Trading] put us in their houses all over Southampton. We live three or four to a room. Each of us is charged £30 for the weekly rent. We have less chance to lose the job if we live in the house provided by the company.”
Just before the minibuses were pulling away from the site, I asked a Polish woman to give me her house number for me to visit her back in Southampton. She seems a confident young woman who doesn’t shy away from telling her name – Elzbieta.
We met again outside of her work. She told me she is a college teacher of German from Poland, where she was earning £180 a month and struggling to support her mother. She arrived believing that Britain had a more relaxed and friendly social environment than Germany, where she worked before. A well-established Polish community here would certainly make things easier for her. She was amazed, however, by the working conditions in Britain.
“At Barfoots, I was paid £3.25 per hour, working 14-16 hours a day, often three weeks without a day off.”
“Sometimes we left at 4pm for work and finished at midnight. We came home 1am, and at 5am we had to be sent to work again. So we only had four hours’ sleep.”
“When they moved me to the labeling department working in the office, they started paying me £3.75 per hour,” Elzbieta says. “Later when I asked for a pay rise, they refused.”
There is no holiday pay and no sick pay, she says. Yet it’s hard not to be sick in this workplace. Her colleague, the 26-year-old Monika says that in 2007 she often worked up to 95 hours a week and found her health deteriorating. “The long hours and lack of sleep was making me ill. I found it hard to breathe at work. I asked three times for just a day off but Soni [Saphire’s assistant manager] said no.”
“We had only one hour of break – that includes our lunch break – in the 17-hour working day. I was always catching up with my sleep during the break. Many of my colleagues developed back pain because of the long hours’ standing on the packing line. But they were so scared of the bosses that they were even worried about showing their health problems.”
Monika also worked for £3.25 hourly. There is no set wage, with individual bargaining prevailing. “Later I complained to Soni and eventually he agreed to pay me £4 an hour.”
For the £40 weekly rent they pay to Saphire, workers are housed in a number of over-crowded places owned by the company. Adam is living with three others in a room. Monika says: “We were told that we must live in the accommodation provided by the agency. It was extremely crowded – they put between 17 and 21 people in a five-room house.” Anna says there were up to 30 people in one house. Elzbieta confirms: “Five people sharing a room is common. The company said if we don’t live in their accommodation, we will lose the job.”
“It’s really terrible working here but I didn’t expect the worst,” says Adam. “When I was thinking whether to return to Poland, or to try to find better work here, I realize I can’t leave the job, because Saphire withholds my passport.”
“I asked the boss more than 10 times to give me back my ID. He always said, ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow,’ but ‘tomorrow’ never comes. These men from the company are dangerous people. They can fight me. Three months ago, when I asked for my passport again, Soni just slapped me.”
“Almost everyone has their IDs withheld by the company. At least a hundred of my colleagues are in the same situation – wanting to leave b
ut can’t,” Adam alleges. Fear of consequences of challenging the company is holding them back.
After talking to the workers, I decided to visit Saphire’s director, Jagjit Singh. He agreed to meet me, but not in his office on Portswood Road but a chip shop a minute away. There, Mr Singh led me into a small room inside the shop and let me ask a few questions. “I started to provide labour since 2004. I advertise the jobs in the local papers.” He said he sent sixty Polish workers to work in pack-houses at World Flower, but totally avoided mentioning Barfoots.
Mr Singh looked nervous when I started talking about wage issues. “I always pay people National Minimum Wage [it was £5.05 at this time] and four weeks’ holiday pay.” But he’d had enough after twenty minutes. “I got to go.” He stopped answering my calls ever since.
As GLA confirms, since Saphire was given the GLA license, it has been subject to two inspections on May 9 2007 and September 7 2007, to ensure that the non-compliances were corrected. Workers allege, however, that Saphire has paid them to “say the right things” in all the visits from the authorities, including the GLA.
“A day before the inspection in spring 2006, Soni gathered us and gave us questions and answers to prepare,” one worker says. “We were interviewed together in a room. We couldn’t tell the truth about our work. In return, each of us received £50 cash.”
Another worker, Marta, said: “I was in an inspection interview with four other workers, and the interpreter was called Artur. We were selected and paid £100 each by Saphire for doing the interview.” Anna says she was among approximately two dozen workers interviewed in a GLA inspection in May 2007. “We were all told by Saphire to say the right answers.” The GLA confirms that 16-20 workers were interviewed during the May inspection, after which the authority informed Saphire that its slate was now clear of any outstanding non-compliance with the licensing rules.
Agnieszka said: “When Saphire was told that there will be an inspection (in May 2007), two or three days before, all the workers were called into the office for a meeting and given a piece of paper with the appropriate answers on it. We were instructed by the supervisor, Kamil Krawczyk, how to answer the questions during an inspection.”
“The interview questions include how long we’ve been working there… how much we are paid… how much is holiday pay and if it’s paid… and if we like the job, etc,” Anna says.
Mariuz, from Byczyna of Poland, showed me a sheet of key answers workers must “learn by heart” for the inspection. It says: “1) Transport is free of charge; 2) We find our own accommodation; 3) We are paid National Minimum Wage of £5.35 per hour; 4) We work 11 hours a day, sometimes less (in fact 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week); 5) Our wages are paid on Friday with payslips; 6) We work 40-48 hours a week (in fact 84-105 hours a week); 7) We are able to work in the office; 8) We have four weeks’ paid holiday (in fact no paid leave); 9) We have two days off in a week; 10) If we have problems, we talk to our supervisors; 11) We never pay registration fees to get work (in fact, every worker paid a £200-£300 fee); 12) We got our jobs from friends; 13) Company address is 348 Portswood Road; 14) All our breaks are paid (in fact workers were never paid for breaks); 15) We all have National Insurance.”
“We were not allowed to say that Saphire provided housing and not allowed to tell the real wages. Every time a Polish man was acting as a translator and making sure we said what was told,” said Agnieszka.
“At the beginning, workers were paid £100 each for these interviews. All the 100 workers on the shift that day [of the inspection] were paid. Later, the company stopped paying. Like us – we weren’t paid for it. If the company was worried a particular worker wouldn’t obey their instructions, they would just give that worker a day off on the inspection day,” she adds.
Intimidation is such that workers feel they may put their safety at risk by telling the truth during an inspection. “People were scared so they obeyed the order, because the company told them that they know their families in Poland. Many workers were recruited in Poland and recruiters know where their families are. Even if you are recruited here, you still need to give the company your IDs and home addresses,” says Agnieszka.
Following the compliance inspection in May 2007, however, GLA confirmed that the licensing condition previously in place on Saphire’s license against license standard (holiday pay) was removed with immediate effect on 6 June 2007.
Despite the Authority’s approval, holiday pay remained absent for workers from day one at Saphire. Mariuz told: “Not only that we didn’t have paid leave, we couldn’t choose when to take time off. The only days off I had were three days (unpaid) when they told me a time that suited them. If you only work there for six months, you aren’t allowed to take time off at all. A colleague of mine had to give up her job when her mother became very ill in Poland because Saphire didn’t allow her to take a few days off work.”
Throughout 2007, I continued to hear of Saphire’s practices. When I visited Barfoots again, a young Polish woman revealed: “the conditions are so harsh here.” Mariuz told me he had received only one payslip from Saphire during the whole time he was working there. On the payslip, he was paid £5.25 per hour, the then National Minimum Wage. “But in fact, I was paid £3.20 per hour, in cash. The payslips never showed deductions of the weekly rent and transport.” “We were never paid for overtime work. Instead, Saphire offered us a kebab each. Our payslips never mention overtime hours.”
GLA has added a condition to Saphire’s license in June 2007: Saphire needs to register the vehicle as Public Service Vehicles (PSV) and ensure that drivers have Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) entitlement. In the same month, Mariuz was forced to drive the minibus without insurance. “They said if I don’t, I’d lose my job.” He said this kind of bullying was very common.
“There was violence, too. In June 2007, I was beaten up by a company staff next to a bin outside the factory. It was because I said I didn’t want to drive without insurance. He said he will teach him how to drive and beat me. Soni dismissed me immediately afterwards.”
Later, I was introduced to another labour provider in Southampton who also recruits EU workers. “These abusive gangmasters like Saphire have a negative impact on my business. They’ve been around for eight to ten years and have made millions of pounds when we are struggling to stay afloat,” he said. He wasn’t optimistic about making such businesses conform to the rules. “They are making black money from black jobs. And they are just tip of the iceberg. This situation has lasted for almost a decade and millions of pounds have been lost to the Government and ultimately the tax payers. You can never get rid of them. ‘Phoenix companies’ return to become staff suppliers with the same named Directors or multiply from one recently closed.”
He claimed that Saphire subcontracts to other labour providers which was against the licensing standards. “Behind every labour provider, there are always three small labour providers,” he mocked. To collect more evidence, I began to do a door-to-door search of Saphire’s workers, using the addresses given by the company’s competitors. Along Cranbury Avenue, Densil Avenue and others streets I spent a day talking to people.
In the past two years, however, a significant change was taking place. Trade union Unite has been organizing migrant workers in the Southampton area, and in 2007, with the mediation of community support service SOS Polonia, hundreds have joined the union, including some workers employed by Saphire Trading.
Finally, workers knew they could do something about the conditions. In one case, says organizer Jen Parker, the union helped a worker to “take Saphire Trading to employment tribunal and won her £14,000 compensation for the absence of holiday pay.”
However, Saphire continued supplying labour with its GLA license, despite the claims of workers that it violated many of the licensing requirements: payment of wages above the national or agricultural minimum (with wage slips provided); no improper deductions (when deductions are made, there must be evidence on file of workers’ written consent); sick pay; paid annual leave; no harsh treatment or intimidation of workers; up-to-standard accommodation, as defined by the Housing Act 1985, a maximum of 48 working hours as set out in the Working Time Regulation 1998, no breaches in health and safety; no improper recruitment and contractual arrangements, such as charging fees to workers for accessing work.
There is still a long way to go to improve working conditions. Jen Parker, the Unite organiser, says that in Britain, “the main problem facing migrant workers today is still the minimum-wage issue. Many Polish workers, mostly employed by agencies, have also come to us for unfair dismissal and health and safety issues. We’re looking at a case of 17 workers suffering from skin problems as a result of lack of safety at a bakery… A Polish worker showed us a picture she took on her mobile phone of a ‘New Work Incentive’ sign outside her motor-factory door that says ‘Work or Get Fired’. These are the kind of employers we’re dealing with.”
In mid-autumn 2008, through enthusiastic Polish interpreters as well as Saphire’s rival companies, I was able to gather more evidence. Up until November, I still received reports from workers, one of them said that his current pay is £3.50 hourly for working 80 hours a week and has been so for two years. This man was told to “fuck off” when asking for holiday pay. In late October 2008, he was dismissed because he asked for P60 and for his wages to be paid directly into his account instead of by cash. “You ask too much,” were the last words of his employer to him.
I sent the main findings about Saphire to the GLA in July 2008 and the Authority launched its investigation under investigator P that September.
When sufficient intelligence was gathered, the GLA sent six officers on an unannounced inspection, including two of them to target twelve addresses in Southampton on 12 November.
One of the enforcement officers said that the number of unannounced visits has been increasing since 2007 and he has been involved in six major unannounced inspections in 2008, from Cornwall to Linconshire and Scotland. This operation on Saphire Trading falls under the Operation Ajax, an 18-month programme set up in June 2008 that increases targeted enforcement involving 20-30 surprise inspections. Let’s hope that the GLA staffing can cope – there are only 25 enforcement officers at the Authority. The enforcement officer on the day of the raid speculated that some workers on this operation have been approached by their employer and thus reluctant to talk. “The biggest problem on that inspection was the fear factor, which is nothing new,” he said, “Workers were scared that if they spoke out, they would lose their jobs and their accommodation. Obviously because their accommodation is tied to their jobs. This problem is most apparent in places where gangmasters, such as Saphire Trading, haven’t been subject to much scrutiny.”
In one of the houses, workers were persuaded into talking. Thomas, who started working for Saphire this July, confirmed that below-standard conditions have remained. He did sweetcorn-picking in the first month of his employment and since has been doing packing with other 260 migrant workers (majority from Poland and a few from Lithuania, Russia and India) at Barfoots’ packhouses. “We receive no employment contract…We are always paid in cash. Since the last three weeks, I started to receive payslips. I’ve received only three payslips since this July.”
Thomas showed me his payslips. “Our hourly pay is £5.73 (the current National Minimum Wage) on the payslip, but in reality we are paid £4.80 in cash after deductions of £40 weekly rent and £5 per day for transport (increased from £4 a day since two weeks ago, and to increase again to £7 a day this December). The deductions are never shown on our payslips.” His colleague and housemate Peter nodded in agreement.
“At peak time, we worked over 60 hours a week…We do three to four times of overtime work in a week, but are never paid for it,” Thomas said. They both said they’ve never signed any working-time opt-out. It came as no surprise that they both said there’s no paid leave. And as Thomas said, smiling, when asked about sick pay: “Never heard of it.”
“Poles are still coming to work for Saphire, as they’re recruited by the two agencies in Radom of Poland that are working with Saphire,” Peter told. “Most people try to stay, but left after a few months because it was too bad. Among those, some returned to Poland. Others didn’t have alternatives and so continued working for up to a year.”
“We talk about conditions at work. Most of us are most worried about the rising cost of transport. We are also concerned that the supervisors are very rough with us,” said Peter.
“A supervisor threatened to deduct one day’s pay from me,” Thomas told, “He shouted, ‘Work faster, or go back to the van and we’ll cut your money for today!’ We all feel intimidated.”
While GLA’s “Come out of the shadow!” posters were put up in town, many Polish workers nevertheless reveal a deep sense of uncertainty as to how the Authority can possibly help them.
There is a real lack of confidence among migrant workers in the institutions in Britain that claim to protect their rights. This reflects a vicious circle where exploited workers saw that companies either stay profitable or get revoked their licenses but set themselves up again in another name. Indeed, phoenix companies carry on squeezing profits out of workers and prospering. The institutional failure to act early and stop exploitation has led to workers’ low/zero confidence in the authorities and consequently low reporting level of abuse, and leading to ever-lasting exploitation.
There is real need for rules to be tightened up to ensure that exploitative labour providers won’t be given a second chance. Barbara Story, SOS Polonia, observed: “In the Polish community, there is the feeling that the licensing doesn’t mean much and nothing can really change for the better. The workers feel hopeless. This is the reason for most workers’ reluctance to cooperate with the authorities.” Many feel they must endure hardship and find little ways to survive in between the cracks of the system. How to break this vicious circle of isolation and victimisation, how to build trust and make victims of exploitation speak out (in which process they may become the catalyst for change) should be one of the key issues facing the GLA.
In January 2009, Saphire Trading’s managing director was charged with GBH after attacking two Polish men in Southampton. On 6 May 2009, Saphire Trading has had its license revoked by the GLA.
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Immigration crackdown in Chinese kitchens serves up job crisis for restaurants: Takeaways are hardest hit as undocumented workers sacked The Guardian
Fear drives Chinese back to cockle beds: Immigration raids leave many without any other chance of work
The Guardian
Shetland unites in battle to halt deportations The Guardian
Inside the grim world of the gangmasters (part one) The Guardian
Inside the grim world of the gangmasters (part two)The Guardian
Fearful isolation, little hope, and even less cash The Guardian
I am illegal, so what can I do? The Guardian
Tragic death that uncovered the shadowy world of Britain’s hidden Chinese workers The Guardian