Migrants, Multiculture, Our People

Supporting Latin-American workers suffering abuse in the UK

62% have experienced broken contracts, 20% are paid below the legal minimum wage, 66% have suffered some kind of discrimination or harassment, 17% have been denied their right to holidays. These are just some of the figures, how can this be changed?


Virginia Moreno Molina


The figures shown in the report make clear the degree of invisibility this group is suffering at the present time. In this sample alone, there were 894 cases of labour rights being abused, just among the 326 cases of women supported by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) between 2015 and 2018, which appear in the report entitled: “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work”

But taking into account the fact that the Latin-American community in the UK in 2016 reached 250,000, of whom 52% are women (130,000), according to McIlwaine and Bunge, what is the true figure for the number of violations suffered?

And although Latin-American immigrant women are seeking support and speaking about their struggles more and more, a better engagement is required to stop these situations from continuing. This is the third and last part of the series that The Prisma is publishing, about this investigation, in which we summarize its conclusions and recommended solutions for these problems.

Labour exploitation

Alicia, from Mexico says that: “Being a domestic worker is dangerous, your bosses almost own you. They brought you to the country so you feel like you owe them, but they treat you like a slave. You work as a cleaner, cook, nanny, receptionist… you do it all, and they pay you £30 a day. It’s crazy.”

According to the report, a total of 67 million people worldwide are presently employed in domestic work. In this study they make up 8% of the sample. Domestic work, together with cleaning (69%) and hospitality (5%), are among the least regulated professions in general.

It is because of this that LAWRS is urging that the situation be recognized and understood, and that proactive and appropriate measures be taken to deal with the high levels of exploitation in these sectors of the employment market.

It is also important to take into account the gender and the vulnerable situation of immigrants in the UK.

For that matter, in this investigation 11 cases of trafficking for labour exploitation were found. As the report says, many of these situations could probably be avoided, by improving access to information and justice for those migrant workers who don’t speak English, and don’t understand the system and the rights that they have. This could be extended to all female workers who are not aware of their rights at work.

Working together with trade unions and NGOs would make it easier to implement labour laws and detect cases of abuse, especially in sub-contracted work.

In the case of Amanda, her situation ended with her being sacked.

Amanda, 62 from Colombia, worked for a cleaning company for a year. She was required to complete a high number of tasks in two-hour shifts, including: cleaning windows, walls, printers, computers, office and kitchen furniture, desks and toilets; removing the rubbish; washing-up when the dishwasher was not working […]. After a few months in the job, she started getting pain in her hands and knees, which led her to slow down her pace. In response, her colleagues and supervisor started to make fun of her, making jokes and derogatory comments. She talked to her supervisor, who did nothing. The verbal abuse continued, and she ended up being dismissed for not being able to complete her tasks as expected.

On top of this, in the majority of cases, the workers don’t complain, for fear of being dismissed, or other reprisals that may be taken against them, and this is even worse in the case of women working without the necessary documents to remain in the UK.

Their rights come first

Putting human rights and women’s rights above the control of immigration is one of the key issues pointed out in the report. This implies the creation of a safe space where all types of work exploitation can be reported without fear of the consequences.

An example of this need is the case of Alicia, a 28 year-old Brazilian woman.

“[…] She was also asked to work 30 minutes extra every day, but was never paid for that time. When she requested annual leave, her supervisor told her that she had no days left, but she has never taken time off. Alicia complained directly to her supervisor, who then threatened her saying “I will ruin your life and I will stop you from finding another job in cleaning”

In addition, any kind of violence at work, including sexual harassment, tends to remain hidden, especially in these sectors. In this study 41% of the women had experienced discrimination, bullying or harassment.

One of the principal recommendations of the report is to provide adequate and regular training on gender discrimination at work and the identification of victims, for those in charge of regulations, including the police. This is especially important in sectors where most employees are women.

This also means implementing the measures necessary to protect women from sexual harassment at work.

In conclusion, the report draws attention to an issue that has continued being demanded for a long time: the official recognition of the Latin-American community as an ethnic minority, by incorporating the category ‘Latin-American’ into the framework of equality and diversity.

Our previous articles on this report are: Latino immigrant women, an abused and silenced workforce in the UK  and Migrant workers in the UK: The silence of the innocents

(Translated by Graham Douglas) – Photos: Pixabay

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