Third of London migrant workers ‘abused and unpaid’

10 April 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

Migrant construction workers on London sites risk exploitation by their employers, including not being paid and being physically and verbally abused.

That’s the claim made in a new report examining labour abuses in the capital’s construction sector by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).

Shaky Foundations: Labour Exploitation in London’s Construction Sector, based on interviews and surveys with migrant workers, found that more than one in three migrants (36%) claimed not to have been paid for work they had done.

A third (33%) also claimed to have faced abuse or discrimination. Following the Brexit vote, 15% said they were wrongly told they can no longer work in the UK.

The report also found that 53% of respondents were made to work in dangerous conditions, while 50% of respondents weren’t given a written contract.

It calls for urgent action by the government, the director of labour market enforcement, and the mayor of London.

FLEX said that because workers are generally self-employed, they have little security or protection against abuse, while others are not given written contracts setting out the terms of their employment.

It also claimed that the use of a flexible workforce in construction to fill worker shortages quickly combined with a practice of cutting labour to save money when costs run high put workers at risk of abuse.

Day labourer Darius (not his real name) told FLEX he was made to work in dangerous conditions or face being sent home from a job.

He said: “They just tied a cable around my waist, and the guy on the roof had another cable around his waist and this is how we did things. I had to do it, otherwise they sent me home. If I said I didn’t want to do it, they would say: go home, we’ll find another. And I didn’t have a contract."

FLEX said: “The threat of being fired at short notice, combined with lack of protection, means that often workers who face problems are too afraid of being left out of work to challenge unscrupulous employers or seek help through official channels.

“Those workers FLEX interviewed felt they had no choice but to endure poor conditions, as they couldn’t afford to risk losing their jobs by complaining.”

It added: “In order to combat abuse and exploitation, more money needs to be made available to the UK labour inspection authorities to carry out proactive inspections in the construction sector.

“While subcontracting labour is the norm in the construction industry, this makes it difficult for companies to oversee working conditions of workers further down the chain. A licensing model to monitor labour providers, enforced by a labour inspectorate, would go a long way to make sure that operators in the construction supply chain are treating workers fairly.”


The men I worked with when I served my apprenticeship in the sixties remembered and told me of their experiences when they worked in the depression. The comments above reminded me of those stories. So much for progress and the CDM Regulations.

Mr P Hoppins, 11 April 2018

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