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Recruitment Agencies can Play a Vital Part in Helping to Eradicate Modern Slavery
The words “modern slavery” should have no place in 21st century Britain – or, indeed, in any other country. It should, literally, be inconceivable.
But, to our shame, it does exist.
Prime Minister Theresa May hit the nail on the head when introducing the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 as Home Secretary. She said it is “the greatest human rights issue of our time”.
The full gravity of the situation was brought home to me recently when I completed the Stronger Together workshop which focused on tackling the issue. It was possibly the most emotional training I have experienced in my 17 years in the recruitment industry.
And it has hit the headlines again last month (March 15) with revelations on the BBC that Eastern European lorry drivers moving goods for retail giant IKEA are being paid just £3 an hour and are forced to sleep, eat and wash in their vehicles.
I now plan to champion the combating of this modern scourge in our own business, Brightwork, which can employ more than 2000 temporary staff across Scotland at peak times. Other recruitment agencies should follow suit.
Because the sad fact is that recruitment agencies had the largest amount of forced labour on their payroll out of all business sectors in the UK in 2014, most of them unwittingly. But we have to ask: is ignorance really an excuse?
And can agenciesreally say that they remain unaware if, for example, a worker is being paid just £20 for working more than 60 hours – with the pay being controlled by a gangmaster who has a connection to the recruitment firm?
A very low price should set off alarm bells rather than fill anyone with the pleasure of negotiating a good deal. The Stronger Together group advises employers in all sectors that if they are offered cheap rates by an agency they must ask: why are they so cheap?
Recruitment agencies operate in a complex and highly-regulated environment. From this month (April 1) the National Living Wage for over-24 year olds is £7.50. Once National Insurance, holiday pay, the apprentice levy and pension costs are added, the total wage cost is £9.05.
Agencies have to cover the costs of their overheads, sickness pay, holidays, and maternity pay and have to have staff who are knowledgeable and up-to-date with legislation such as right-to-work and health and safety. They also, incidentally, have to make a profit to ensure they pay their own staff a living wage.
But while an agency may operate on low margins, that does not provide an excuse not to question the supply chain. The reputational issues associated with the use of forced labour are huge. Every major retailer is funding the Stronger Together movement and the construction industry is about to roll it out too.