Rusholme in South Manchester, the site of the famous Curry Mile, is a hotspot of labour exploitation. Migrants, who often don’t have the right papers, are an easy target for callous business people looking to make easy money off their backs.
Yacoub (not his real name) knows many of the people who work in Rusholme. He says between 200-300 people work for just £2 or £3 per hour in restaurants in the area.
“Nearly everyone working there is doing so illegally and they can’t challenge their conditions because of their immigration status,” he explains.
A worker employed in a large restaurant in Curry Mile corroborates.
“The owners are getting rich, while we struggle to even survive. It is because the government refuses us the right to work that we are forced into this situation,” he says.
Many workers have escaped conflict or persecution in their own countries and are awaiting asylum decisions, some have over-stayed visas and a significant proportion have taken huge risks to get here.
“I know many people who have been trafficked or who have done dangerous things like clinging to the bottom of lorries for hours just to try and get a better life over here, and this is what they find when they get here,” Yacoub says.
The businesses are sometimes caught and fined by immigration authorities, but are used to dodging sanctions. Legal workers with papers are often ‘shared’ by restaurants, a practice that puts them on the books of several different businesses so it looks like they have enough lawful staff to cover shifts. Often their names are down to be working at several places at any one time.
Yacoub describes how workers also have to be skilled at avoiding the authorities.
“One time when they came to arrest people, my friend was taking food from the kitchen to some customers,” he says.
“When they burst in he walked up to the table, put the customers’ food down and started eating it in front of them. You can imagine how shocked they were.”
But it is not just restaurants that are involved in this kind of exploitation. Security guards, hairdressers and factory workers are often employed under similar conditions. In January this year it was revealed that a Manchester sweatshop producing clothing for Primark was paying workers £3 per hour and subjecting workers to 12 hour days, seven days per week.
A lot of workers have families and struggle to provide properly for them. One worker says, “Because I work such long hours for so little, it puts a lot of pressure on my family. I have three children so my wife has to stay at home and look after them all of the time because we can’t get access to childcare due to our immigration status.”
Many employees are highly qualified but because the government stops them from working in this country they are forced into menial, poorly-paid work. Doctors and lawyers, whose skills could be put to good use, have to resort to waiting on tables.
Workers believe the situation is worsening and the competition among workers has been increased by the scarcity of jobs at the moment due to the economic crisis.
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