Workplace inspections in EU countries should be overhauled to improve the detection of labour abuses.
In a report the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) said employers should not be informed about visits, inspectors should create a “safe environment” where workers can speak freely, and inspections should be based on working conditions and not immigration status.
The report was based on interviews and focus groups with 237 exploited workers from EU and non-EU countries, over half of whom had not witnessed or heard of workplace inspections. That figure rose to more than 70% in some countries, including Germany, Poland and the UK.
“This suggests that monitoring and inspections – at least of certain economic sectors in which workers are at high risk of severe labour exploitation – are insufficient,” said the report.
Interviewees were from a range of sectors including construction, agriculture, transport and manufacturing. The report said EU member states should “pay special attention to the construction and food sectors where exploitation is likely”.
A Polish agricultural worker in Germany told investigators: “We had two forms in which we officially only worked for eight hours and in the one other one we worked for 14 hours.
“In case [an] inspection came, we were to show the [first] list.”
The report said many employers had advance warning of inspections, enabling them to cover up malpractices. Employers’ strategies to avoid fines and prosecution, such as stopping employees coming in, influenced how workers perceived the role of inspection authorities and efforts should be made inform, reassure and support workers.
FRA director Michael O’Flaherty said: “Workers today should not have to pay the price to enjoy their right to work. Severe exploitation should be rooted out.
“Labour inspections play a vital role in spotting abuse. For this, member states need to strengthen inspections to catch exploitative employers and better protect workers.”
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