The unheard workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work

Key findings

62%

of workers faced breaches to their contracts

41%

of women in the sample have experienced discrimination

28%

were not allowed to take time off sick, paid or unpaid

This report presents labour rights violations experienced by Latin American migrant women employed in three key feminised areas of London’s labour sectors: cleaning, hospitality and domestic work. Drawing on 326 cases of women supported by the Employment Rights Advice Service of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), this report outlines a number of employment rights issues that illustrate the endemic exploitation facing workers in these sectors.

Key findings

  • Over half of the workers faced breaches to their contracts (62%).
  • Unlawful deduction of wages was the most common type of abuse (151 cases, 46%).
  • 1 in 5 (20%) experienced illegal underpayment of the National Minimum Wage.
  • 21% were not provided with written contracts and 20% were not provided with payslips.
  • 14% felt forced to accept significant changes in their working conditions.
  • 17% were unlawfully denied the annual leave they were entitled to, and 16% were not paid accrued in lieu annual leave once they left the company.
  • Over two in five (41%) of women in the sample have experienced discrimination, harassment or unreasonable treatment.
  • Health and safety issues were present in 25% of the cases – predominantly injury due to the nature of the work (33%), limited or no protective equipment (17%), and lack of training (12%).
  • Almost a third were not allowed to take time off sick, regardless of whether paid or unpaid (28%), or were only allowed to take sick leave if they were able to arrange for a person to cover for them and to face the costs.
  • 66% experienced bullying or unreasonable treatment as regular occurrences.
  • A large proportion endured verbal and/or faced physical abuse, 37% and 11% respectively.
  • 16% of the women endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
  • Abuse on the grounds of maternity was experienced by 9% of women. This includes failure to pay for hours spent at prenatal appointments and denial of risk assessments during pregnancy.
  • 11 cases of potential trafficking for labour exploitation were identified: 7 were cleaners or hospitality workers and 4 were domestic workers.

Recommendations

  • Recognise, understand and take proactive measures to tackle the high levels of exploitation in unregulated sectors of the labour market.
  • Develop appropriate responses to labour rights violations and trafficking that are gender-informed, while also being aware of the vulnerable status of migrants in the UK.
  • Place human rights and women’s rights above immigration control. Establishing a firewall that separates labour market enforcement from immigration control and opening pathways for all workers to safely report labour abuses.
  • Take action to tackle labour exploitation by working in collaboration with unions and supporting organisations for appropriate enforcement of employment rights in outsourced sectors.
  • Provide appropriate and regular training to labour enforcement and other relevant agencies, including the police, on gender-based violence at work and on victims’ identification, particularly in feminised sectors of the labour market.
  • Take steps to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace, including harassment involving third-parties.
  • Improve access to information and justice among migrant workers who are unable to speak English and lack understanding of the system and of their rights.
  • Officially recognise the Latin American community as an ethnic group by including the category ‘Latin American’ in equality and diversity frameworks.
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The unheard workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work

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