Migrant care staff in UK ‘exploited and harassed’ by employers, says UNISON 

Migrant staff deserve nothing but respect and dignity for coming to look after those who need care the most. 

Migrant staff coming to the UK to take up jobs in social care are being forced to pay back thousands of pounds in fees, housed in sub-standard accommodation and even forced to share beds with colleagues, says UNISON today (Monday).

To highlight this appalling treatment, the union has written to care minister Helen Whately warning of a ‘significant rise’ in reports of unacceptable treatment by unscrupulous employers towards workers from overseas.

In the letter, UNISON says the exploitation and ‘shocking abuse’ faced by skilled migrant workers – 58,000 of whom came to the UK to work in the care sector in the 12 months to March – can include huge charges to pay back ‘relocation costs’ if they wish to change jobs.

Social care employers often demand migrants pay large fees of up to £15,000 upfront for finding them a job and housing in the UK. But many end up in poor accommodation, then have rent deducted from their wages, according to the union.

The letter details one case where a care home employer chased a nurse for £14,000 after she resigned. The employee had raised concerns over exploitative treatment and standards of care.

Some have been paid for just a fraction of the hours they have worked or subjected to racist remarks, harassment, and intimidation if they complain about the treatment of the people they care for.

Others have worked for several months without being paid by their employers, who claim this is to recoup fees towards the cost of the migrant workers’ training or accommodation.

Care staff have told UNISON they’re expected to share bedrooms and, in some cases, even beds. They are also directed by their employers not to discuss the circumstances of how they came to be in the UK with anyone.

In the letter, UNISON says: “Sadly, this is inevitable in a sector that is built on poor terms and conditions for all care workers, including poverty wages, no proper sick pay, failure to pay for travel time and zero-hours contracts.”

The letter acknowledges the Prime Minister’s recent rejection of calls to scale back the visa route for social care, saying that this is “a tacit acknowledgment of how much these workers are doing to prop up a system in crisis. These workers deserve our praise, thanks, and good working conditions, not the outright exploitation many are facing.”

It continues: “Care worker ill-treatment is rife, irrespective of migration status. But unscrupulous employers have greater powers over migrant care workers, which leads to the most extreme and disgraceful practices.”

UNISON says in the letter that the problem is ‘systemic’, migrant workers ‘deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in compliance with UK employment law’, and the government has ‘a responsibility to intervene’.

This would “ensure the fair treatment of migrant workers who have come to help provide a vital public service”, the letter adds.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government must stop unscrupulous care employers from luring overseas workers under false pretences, only to then exploit and harass them.

“These practices have no place in a modern society. Migrant staff deserve nothing but respect and dignity for coming to look after those who need care the most. This makes the case for why a national care service, that mirrors the NHS, is needed so urgently.”

Notes to editors:
– The government added ‘care workers’ and ‘home carers’ to the shortage occupation list for skilled workers in February 2022. This has enabled care providers to recruit directly from abroad to these roles. Nurses from overseas can also access visas to work in social care.
Case studies: Michael, a nurse who was asked to pay back several thousand pounds, said: “It was like modern-day slavery. I was just a commodity to my employer. I knew there might be costs to pay back but not such a high amount.”
– Agnes, a nurse whose employer didn’t pay her for her last few months at work, said: “The contract I signed was deceiving, it didn’t specify how much I’d have to pay back. My employer didn’t pay me for the last few months to recoup the money they claimed I owed them. They’d call on my day off to ask if what I was doing was important. The whole experience was devastating.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:

Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk
Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk