Workers in the construction industry are vulnerable to exploitation and slavery, including the cover-up of serious accidents, according to two new reports.
The Nature and Scale of Labour Exploitation across all Sectors within the United Kingdom from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) highlights the construction sector as a 'high risk' industry for labour exploitation such as slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.
'Convoluted supply chains in the industry make identifying potential exploitation and ending illegal practices challenging,’ the report said, adding that a reported widespread use of self-employment as the preferred contracting arrangement in the sector, ‘with a direct link to exploitation’.
The industry employs around three million people.
The report states: ‘Self-employed workers are cheaper to hire, are not entitled to holiday pay or statutory sick pay, and must provide their own PPE. Despite being registered as self-employed, many workers will have in fact worked exclusively for one company for many years.
'Furthermore, the manner in which workers are directed to undertake work is unlikely to meet the criteria to be correctly defined as self-employed. Migrant workers in particular may not understand that they are being deceived regarding their employment rights and status. A self-employed contractor will also pay an estimated £2,000 per year less tax than an employee doing the same task and earning the same basic remuneration.’
The shortage of construction workers in the UK means that 'increasing numbers of workers are likely be sourced from overseas over the coming months in order to support UK infrastructure'.
The report also highlights 'that serious accidents have befallen exploited workers and in some cases compensation has been offered to stop victims presenting a case to authorities, however this is not always paid’.
Looking across all industries, the report notes that forced labour accounts for around 30% of all exploitation. The majority of victims are male EU nationals from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
It adds that ‘debt bondage’, where victims are forced to work off debts they have no control over, is an increasing tactic used by criminals.
Victoria Atkins, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability said: ‘The barbaric nature of modern slavery means it destroys the lives of its victims, which is why we introduced the world-leading Modern Slavery Act 2015 and increased the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) funding by £2.6m a year to help tackle modern slavery and wider labour exploitation.
‘This report is part of the GLAA's crucial work to understand the scale of exploitation of vulnerable workers so that law enforcement can identify and protect victims, and convict their perpetrators.’
In a separate report published last week the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) criticised what it said was the industry’s slow response to the Modern Slavery Act, highlighting 'the aggressive business models that are creating an environment for unethical procurement and recruitment practices, and the systemic auditing failures that are allowing criminals to infiltrate major projects undetected'.
The CIOB said problems 'are set at the top of supply chains with lowest cost tendering, abuse of the retentions system and late payment pricing out ethical practice'.
It added: 'The situation is creating an imbalance of power that leaves all nationalities vulnerable to exploitation. Illegal activities such as blacklisting are also believed to be continuing, despite recent high profile court cases.'