Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/847/20274
Leicester: £3 an hour wage slavery scandal
Mike Barker, TUSC prospective parliamentary candidate, Leicester East
2,500 garment workers in Leicester, half the total in the city, are paid £3 an hour or less. This horrifying statistic, highlighted in a recent report, exposes sweat shop bosses who flout minimum wage laws.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a campaign backed by companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations, commissioned the report by Leicester University researchers.
This shocking study on the prevalence of modern-day slavery in Leicester says that across the East Midlands in 2010, textile companies probably defrauded workers of at least £50 million in wages. It emphasized that the average take home pay for garment workers grafting usually for about 28 hours a week with a "near complete absence of employment contracts" was a measly £79.
It goes on to observe "late payment of wages, and the official declaration of a portion of wages only. Employers often consider welfare benefits as a 'wage component' and force workers to supplement wages below the minimum wage with welfare benefits."
In 2008 the TUC pointed that the "HMRC (Revenue and Customs - responsible for enforcing the minimum wage) has around 5% of the number of inspectors that are available to the Department for Work and Pensions benefit fraud unit." The number of enforcement visits undertaken had fallen by 14,930 per year since 1988.
Cuts in the HMRC have affected these. The Low Pay Commission says that there are only half the number of compliance officers in post now compared to the number of Wages Council inspectors in the 1950s, despite "the considerable expansion of 'at risk' populations such as part-time ethnic minority and women workers".
In the past Leicester was a major centre for the hosiery and knitwear industry, but was hit by the closure of all the major factories as the work shifted to the far east. Now third world conditions are being imported back here.
The ETI urges retailers to check that their suppliers are acting 'ethically', but the trade unions are the key to changing the situation. The secretary of Leicester Trades Union Council, Tony Church, said: "I believe we should work with local unions to reach out to those workers and organise them in order to ensure their rights are won."
Cases like this exist across the country. The Socialist Party campaigns for a £10 an hour minimum wage now.
To that we must add urgent action is needed by government to enforce the minimum wage. But it will take a fight by trade unions, and a political will to make it happen.
In The Socialist 11 March 2015:
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