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

Author: Latin American Women's Rights Service

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

19 July 2019

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