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We can't let workers slip through the cracks

Tom Fitzpatrick

‘The sad story of Romanians in construction’ was one headline suggestion for this week’s CN investigation into modern slavery.

It was offered by one of many Romanian men interviewed by our head of content, who has spent months visiting sites and interviewing people waiting to be collected for work in locations across London.

He mostly met Romanian men, but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this problem is restricted to one nationality or one part of the UK.

In truth, this is an issue that clients, contractors and all working in construction must concern themselves with tackling.

The men who gather on these streets for cash-in-hand work are doing it because even if they are underpaid and have dire working conditions, they can send money home that will make a difference to their families.

It’s one of the reasons why detective chief inspector Phil Brewer, who heads up the Met’s modern slavery and kidnap unit, says prosecutions are so difficult.

Why bite the hand that feeds you, even if it doesn’t feed you what you’re worth?

CN heard from people who had suffered beatings, been left on the streets in unfamiliar towns and forced to make their way home without pay, and much worse besides.

These people are employed in dangerous circumstances through illegal means, then paid little (if at all) in conditions where they risk injury.

At its worst this is modern slavery. At the very least, it’s a problem that can surely be tackled by site owner-operators showing more care as to who they employ.

Site raids and prosecutions are on the up and, as our skills cards investigation last week showed, building sites are big business for fraudsters, so this battle won’t be going away.

This industry needs to tackle the core root of the problem: who are you employing on your sites?

Theresa May reiterated to the CBI’s conference this week that she did not recognise a need for a low-skilled immigration route into the UK.

Taking aside the argument against using the terminology ‘low-skilled’ (which I’ve already written about on these pages), Mrs May is sitting on a timebomb for the construction industry.

Our reports over the last two weeks show why EU workers are slipping through the cracks. The government should be paying closer attention.

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