Gangmasters who exploit migrant workers could be moving into the social care sector to evade licensing regimes covering farming and food-related industries, union chiefs say.
The TUC said anecdotal evidence to its Commission on Vulnerable Employment suggests that exploitative gangmasters were supplying increasing numbers of staff to care homes, which are not covered by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).
The GLA was set up in 2005 to combat exploitation of migrant workers in sectors such as agriculture and food packaging by licensing employment agencies and suppliers to prevent abuses including illegal deductions from wages, poor accommodation or debt bondage.
Nicola Smith, senior policy officer at the commission, said: “We are hearing from organisations on the ground such as citizens advice bureaux that gangmasters are moving into unregulated sectors [such as social care] where they face less chance of being inspected.”
Smith called for all agencies to be regulated by the GLA, but added that it needed to be better resourced to ensure it could take tougher enforcement action.
Nick Johnson, chief executive of the Social Care Association, the sector’s professional body, said he had also heard anecdotes of migrant workers in social care being cheated by gangmasters charging them to access work.
However, he said it would be difficult for unscrupulous agencies to move into social care because of Commission for Social Care Inspection regulations on staff checks.
He added: “It isn’t as easy to bring people into care settings as, say, if you see someone on a street and ask them if they want to do cockle picking.”
Earlier this year, the government consulted on measures to protect vulnerable agency workers in all sectors, including a right to refuse accommodation, transport or other services provided by an agency without suffering detriment, though GLA licensing goes further than this.
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