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The East European serf is alive and well

In these days of statutory minimum wages and workers’ rights, it’s quite horrific to see that workers are still being exploited to an almost Dickensian extent in some places. The Mansfield Chad carried a report in June 2008 about the use of migrant labour on a building site in Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire:

Mansfield Chad: Migrant workers exploited in King’s Mill construction project

Apparently the workers involved were Lithuanians, so this is not a matter of illegal immigrants being smuggled into the country – Lithuanians are guaranteed the right to live and work in the UK under EU freedom of movement legislation. However, the company undertaking the work, Produm, wasn’t the company originally contracted to do the work. They’d been subcontracted by another company, Baris, who in turn were the subcontractors of the company originally allotted the contract, Skanska.

The idea of construction workers in the UK being paid as little as £8.80 for a 40-hour week – that’s just 22p an hour – is scandalous in itself. Apparently Produm made excessive stoppages for rent, utilities and tools, and refused to pay overtime, in a manner redolent of the bad old days of truck shops in the early days of industrialisation in Britain.

But what makes it even more scandalous is that the work was for an NHS hospital using taxpayers’ money. (In part, anyway; apparently it’s a Private Finance Initiative project, of the type beloved by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor.)

As officials of construction union UCATT pointed out, this took place on a well organised site. The extent to which migrant labour’s being exploited on unorganised sites around the country doesn’t bear thinking about.

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