SOME Zimbabwean caregivers in the United Kingdom (UK) are allegedly subjected to, among other ill-treatments, unfair labour practises such as working for long hours on poor wages and sacked from work if they complain to the UK Home Office.
NewsDay understands that the culprits involved include some Zimbabweans who were mandated by the Home Office to recruit caregivers from Zimbabwe.
The culprits are also reportedly charging an arm and leg for facilitating the caregivers’ entry into the UK, yet they are supposed to provide the service for free.
A Zimbabwean cardiologist based in the UK who refused to be named told NewsDay that several caregivers from Harare were being exploited, but were reluctant to open up.
“Caregivers receive poor salaries and work for more than 40 hours per week, which is the maximum. On average, they’re being forced to work for 60 hours. That’s modern slavery. Some have fixed contracts. You can’t change employers and if you do that, you will be deported,” he said.
“The pay scale should be £15 to £18 pounds per hour, but they’re being paid £7 to £10.”
A couple of caregivers who spoke to NewsDay confirmed the exploitation, but could not give further details.
“It’s happening, but I am not a quitter,” one of them said.
A British weekly newspaper, The Observer on Sunday reported that a victim of suspected labour abuses in the UK was ousted from her job and victimised after being sacked.
“The Zimbabwean national (25) was interviewed by Home Office compliance officers for an investigation into illegal recruitment practices and told them she had paid a fee of about £1 500 to an agent who arranged for a care home in Surrey to sponsor her visa,” The Observer said.
It is illegal to charge a worker a fee for finding them work and the government has pledged to stop the practice, which can leave victims at risk of modern slavery.
The worker, who was interviewed with several colleagues, claims she was given assurances by the interviewer that her identity would not be disclosed. But days after the interview, she was contacted by her employer asking why she had co-operated.
The care home had been sent her name and details of her comments, including the claims about abusive practices and the illegal fees.
She told the newspaper: “I no longer feel safe. I thought the Home Office would see me as a victim. Instead, they have exposed me to intimidation and threats from my employer.”
Harare-based immigration consultant Nyasha Muteswa said it was unethical for the Home Office investigation team to divulge the name of the whistle-blower to their employer.
“I have heard various cases of exploitation of caregivers when they get to the UK. Some of them have had deductions made from their salaries without their approval. Some have been recruited by briefcase care companies and recruitment agencies such that when they get to the UK, the purported employer doesn’t have enough contract (hours) to deploy the caregivers. Poor accommodation has also been mentioned,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from the British embassy spokesperson in Harare Kate Chambers were fruitless yesterday.
However, the Home Office was quoted by The Observer saying while such information is used to assess the employer, interviewees are protected and details are not routinely disclosed.
“Sponsors are aware of which workers have been spoken to and workers are informed that the contents of the interview may be made available to sponsors. However, disclosure of which worker has made specific comments does not routinely occur if the worker makes specific sensitive statements relating to criminal matters,” it said.