Conditions in Leicester factories still questioned, workers remain underpaid - report
Two years on and garment factories in Leicester are still underpaying and exploiting staff, a new study reveals. The Low Pay Commission (LPC) said that although the sector had changed “substantially” since the Covid-19 crisis, non-compliance with the minimum wage remains “a serious issue affecting too many workers” and was “going undetected”.
The report said that at the heart of the updated evidence is a disconnect: “Enforcement bodies have found relatively modest non-compliance in Leicester, while Commissioners spoke to other bodies and individuals who believed non-compliance to be widespread and flagrant”.
The update comes after working conditions at Leicester factories came under the spotlight in 2020. And it reveals that the culture of under-paying workers “remains rife because most are scared of losing their jobs if they make a complaint”.
So bad are the findings that LPC chair Bryan Sanderson has called on the government to take “comprehensive action”.
He said: “The evidence we heard from workers in Leicester was striking. Despite some positive recent progress, job insecurity, a poisonous workplace culture and low expectations leave workers trapped in poor-quality jobs and vulnerable to exploitation. These same factors mean they are unlikely to report abuses, which undermines efforts to enforce workers’ rights.
He added: “The case of Leicester is not unique. Across the UK, workers in precarious positions face the same obstacles with the same consequences for enforcement. The problem demands comprehensive action, including to give these workers greater security over their hours and incomes.”
Several Leicester workers told the LPC that employers threatened to make sure any ‘troublemakers’ would “never work again”. Another said that managers coached workers on what to tell inspectors.
According to the findings rogue operators are also evading scrutiny by under-reporting the number of hours employees work for a given amount of pay, or paying the minimum wage but forcing workers to hand back part of their pay in cash to managers.
The update comes several years after working conditions at Leicester factories came under the spotlight with issues linked to factories supplying multiple big-name businesses, and also after two years ago when unsafe working conditions were blamed for the spread of Covid-19 in the city.
Although enforcement agencies have ramped up the number of inspection visits since then – and retailers including Boohoo have launched investigations and crackdowns – the LPC warned that the scale of the abuses remained “impossible to determine”.
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