Webinar: Migration, Exploitation, and Unethical Employment in the UK

Webinar: Migration, Exploitation, and Unethical Employment in the UK

By Christopher Lim

A webinar hosted by ImpACT International in partnership with The Bruges Group, the Freedom Association, and the Workers of England Union was held online on the 17 July 2022. Viewers got the chance to hear from:

  • Robert Oulds, Executive Director of ImpACT International
  • Andrew Bridgen, Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire,
  • Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of the Freedom Association
  • Stephen Morris, General Secretary of the Workers of England Union

The panel discussed the impact illegal immigration brought about by people smugglers had on incomes and wages at home, in particular the city of Leicester close to the constituency of Member of Parliament Andrew Bridgen, and the wider community, in addition to the lacklustre enforcement or resolution of this situation. Moreover, the reasons behind the unwillingness on some authorities' and local councils to do something about this. Viewers could hear from the perspective of Mr Robert Oulds, himself a former Councillor and Cabinet Member in the Borough of Hounslow, and his experiences seeing first-hand the exploitative conditions illegally brought over workers lived in.

Andrew Bridgen MP has been very vocal on the abuse of migrant workers - and the consequent effect it has on British workers. Stephen Morris' Workers of England Union has become one of the 'fastest growing unions in the United Kingdom', representing those suffering from government policies, such as mandatory vaccinations or those speaking out against lockdowns, and Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of the Freedom Association, which has spoken on this issue in the past.

For agencies and employers in the UK to be able to hire key workers from abroad, it is important that the UK has a stellar reputation for the rule of law and protection of workers against breaches of contract

Andrew Bridgen MP spoke on his experience speaking to people that live and work near his constituency on the abuse of migrant, often illegal migrant, labour in the city of Leicester. "You've got a full subculture" he said, "you've got a full subculture when I looked into it of many many many thousands of people employed in the garment industry producing goods which, when you analyse the goods on the sale price, there's absolutely no way that the fabric could be bought and all the labor could be conducted in the UK for the prices that they were being being sold at". He described the 'black economy' in the garment industry and how asylum seekers end up in these incredibly vulnerable conditions: "when illegal migrants come into the country they will try to claim asylum and they will, with the help of lawyers, appeal and appeal, but when their final appeal ends that's the time when they then abscond and they go to their their least favourite option which is to move into the black economy... become an illegal worker". "I've spoken to these individuals they live in overcrowded accommodation, sometimes 30 of them in a two-bedroom terraced house in Leicester, so basically every room will be full of just beds on the floor. Their deposits will be taken by the landlord the landlord knows they're illegal, so they'll never get the deposits back..." the North West Leicestershire MP said of the conditions he had heard about from constituents.

Issues such as getting around minimum wage rules, local authorities and political leaders' ignorance of the situation, and the investigation by HMRC and the Border Force, were also brought up by Andrew Bridgen. He also mentioned a letter from John Lyttle, CEO of Boohoo Group Plc, years before he took the CEO position, and Bridgen remained critical of Lyttle's alleged hypocrisy "he wrote to all the manufacturing businesses in Leicester and said that 'morally we can't buy from there anymore because if you can match the prices from the Far East, you clearly can't be abiding by UK rules and the UK laws so therefore we just can't source from Leicester'. The same man 10 years later became the Chief Executive of Boohoo and they were quite happy to source considerable amounts of their UK supply from the same companies in Leicester."

When asked on the political leadership within the city of Leicester, be it MPs or the city mayor, he noted that there weren't any Conservative councillors in Leicester and that it was a "complete Labour fiefdom". He also spoke about his own advocacy: "When I moaned about the sweatshops to the city council they will just say 'well we never have any complaints from anybody working in those places'. Well, they're not going to, are they? That's the whole point".

Stephen Morris gave his trade union perspective on illegal immigration and exploitation of labour. He spoke of how his union, the Workers of England Union, represented workers who didn't want to be vaccinated when UNISON refused. He criticised the others, saying that "the main trade unions all left the care home sector to its own devices". On illegal immigration, he was just as critical as Mr Bridgen was: "They're all talking about half a million illegal workers in this country so the argument is...[that] they're gonna be no protections at all. There are no checks on them. They're going to be abused; you can guarantee that the workplaces don't comply with health and safety regulations and it really is detrimental for all but you can guarantee these people... will not be putting into the tax system as well but they will be claiming benefits in some way they will be claiming either housing support or universal credit and they'll be using the NHS...There's going to be a lot of problems created then we have to get this controlled, it has to be controlled".

Andrew Allison, TFA CEO, gave his thoughts on illegal immigration and the abuse of workers as a result of the people smuggling business. He firstly clarified a view about his organisation and the opinions of Conservatives in general, saying "I think there is a myth that's perpetuated by some people on the left that there are those of us on the right - people who are conservative, libertarian, classical liberals - that we just believe in exploitation and that that would have you believe that we're only interested in defending big businesses and millionaires and everybody else can just get trampled on underfoot. Well I've never met anybody in the conservative party who thinks like that and I haven't met anyone who's a member of The Freedom Association who thinks like that. I believe in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work; I mean, there are market forces of play which means that not every business compare higher wages but that doesn't mean the businesses should be allowed to pay peanuts and exploit its workforce." He also expressed scepticism at the UK government's Rwanda policy but said he was happy that the Home Office was taking action on uncontrolled, illegal immigration. He also used Australia's experience with illegal immigration as an example, citing the progression and actions taken by various Australian governments, from John Howard to Julia Gillard's: "The moral of the story really is that if you do wish to end illegal immigration, you have to be proactive. You can't just wish these problems away". He said of illegal immigration and his reasons behind his strong advocacy for taking action that, "We know that some people arriving illegally into the UK end up working in the black economy, many of them indeed. They can't register for a national insurance number they can't work legally they can't register for benefits, so the only way that they can earn a living is by putting themselves into the hands of those people who are going to exploit them and we've heard some examples earlier in this webinar. If you enter the UK legally, life can be very good. You can be highly successful but the same cannot be said if you hand over everything you've got into the hands of people smugglers and arrive here illegally."

Highlighting the abuse faced by many, he said that "the decision not to investigate is utterly reprehensible for those raped and those abused by these gangs. So...with the help of the friendly governments, the people smugglers... need to be arrested, they need to be prosecuted and they need to be jailed for their crimes those who make the journey across the English Channel have to realise that they will not be able to stay here there are legal routes into this country for those who are genuine asylum seekers".

When asked by Ciaran McGrath of The Daily Express on what the government could do to tackle this, Bridgen noted the extent of the problem, saying how currency from Scotland were making their way to tills in pubs - as an anecdotal example - which showed how widespread it had become. He also said the government had to get to the root of the problem". When McGrath asked whether this issue shouldn't have been resolved since Brexit - with control having been taken back - giving the UK a chance to hone in on those issues. Bridgen noted that illegal immigration affects legal migrants worst as the competition for housing and employment becomes more intense.

On the question of specific action to be taken, Bridgen highlighted that the local law enforcement agencies simply had to enforce laws. Another issue brought up was the rights that exploited workers, who were illegally brought over, had in the UK: "they got no recourse to complain to the council about their living conditions".

Stephen Morris also expressed similar sentiments and concerns, that workers were being entrapped into modern slavery. He also reiterated the importance of enforcing laws without fear or favour, saying that fear from police officials towards enforcing laws allowed these issues to continue.

Exploitation of foreign workers in the UK isn’t just restricted to workers illegally brought over; key workers such as nurses and farmers hired by agencies to help support the pillars of the health service and agriculture have also faced significant constraints on their employment conditions.

The exploitation of foreign nurses

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses recruited from all over the world were brought into the fold of the NHS’ various trusts and the private sector. As they were brought over legally and are on contracts with this organisation, they fortunately have some recourse to raise complaints or get help from their respective charities: however, as noted in this Observer piece, vague clauses in their contracts can lead to these foreign workers being expectedly forced to pay hefty fees if they wish to leave their jobs early. So, even for those with contracts, certain abuses of terms can be made. Why is this an issue for Britain? After all, these are binding contracts: it is an issue when Britain is competing for the best and brightest from abroad and scandals such as these pop up now and then. Moreover, for agencies and employers in the UK to be able to hire key workers from abroad, it is important that the UK has a stellar reputation for the rule of law and protection of workers against breaches of contract.

Ukraine exploitation

There is a worse predicament for some Ukrainians in the UK on seasonal work visas - part of the post-Brexit scheme for seasonal workers, as reported in the Guardian. Some of these Ukrainians who arrived on seasonal work visas have since fled the allegedly poor, “modern slavery” conditions, but have had their visas expired, leaving them unable to stay here legally, but unable to return to Ukraine due to the ongoing war. The seasonal workers in this position arrived in the UK before 2022, and are hence not eligible for the Home Office’s Ukraine extension scheme. An issue like this, where the prospect of returning home or being deported is often impossible, needs to be resolved and in this case, where the UK has already done a great deal to support Ukraine, it is only consistent if they were given recourse to stay in the UK and continue to seek employment and benefit our economy.

The new Prime Minister or whoever his successor is must seek to use the control that has now been taken back and enforce the Rwanda policy and use any other means to disincentivise people smugglers. That they are coming from a place of safety, in France, is in no doubt, and hence the British Government should negotiate with the French government so that both parties are now in a place to take action on people smugglers. Moreover, the Home Secretary should be empowered to instruct police chiefs across the country to enforce laws equally, without fear or favour, hence raising the bar for accountability.

We call on Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, and the candidate most likely to be Boris Johnson’s successor, to take comprehension on this widespread issue of forced labour and abuse of illegal migrants. It starts with working with France to stop the channel crossings and having the infrastructure in place to support the Rwanda policy, so that no further people are put in such situations in the future.


  • Border outposts, a well-supported Border Force, and a government enabled to enforce the Rwanda policy.
  • For people currently existing in the UK in slave-like conditions, with no legal recourse, a wider net must be cast were there is a widespread issue and perpetrators have to be held responsible.
  • The Home Secretary, with those proposed powers, must be able to hold accountable police officials who engage in two-tiered policing, hence allowing these problems to worsen: when the police do not enforce the rule of law in some communities, the rule of law is gone. This must be returned and those who do not enforce the Modern Slavery Act as law enforcement must also be held accountable.
  • The Home Office should implement a new policy of monitoring the conditions of workplaces employing seasonal or temporary work pass holders. These sectors are pillars to the supply chain and food supply in the UK and ensuring workers are treated in a way that meets certain standards will continue to make the case for more people to want to work in this sector for longer. It will lead to more professionalism and encourage food producers to invest in technology and automated systems.
  • The statute book must be looked at to see if sentences for modern slavery and trafficking can be increased.
  • Local authorities must tackle houses in multiple occupation and ‘beds in sheds’ harbour a multitude of abuses directed against the UK’s migrant community.



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