During these unprecedented circumstances, our society unites once a week when we extend our support to all key workers each Thursday evening and eruptions of claps fill the streets. Migrant workers comprise a much more significant proportion of this workforce than many may think. Yet, many migrant workers have never been more vulnerable to being forced into exploitative labour conditions and becoming victims of modern slavery in the U.K.
The recent government policies have granted 2,800 migrant doctors, nurses and paramedics a free-of-charge, one-year extension for those whose visas were due to expire before 1st October 2020. In referring to the thousands of NHS workers who are foreign nationals, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, Christine Jardine, said “Our beloved NHS could not function, and lives would be lost without their contribution”.
However, the current U.K. financial support, for workers who are forced to take leave, offer no relief for the thousands of key migrant workers outside of the NHS whose visas are expiring soon. Many of these workers are part of the low-skilled labour workforce which is crucial in supporting the national economy. However, emerging economic hardships are likely to be coupled with many migrant workers being forced into exploitative labour conditions that derive from increased demand in supermarket supply chains, warehousing and logistics amid the pandemic. Many of these individuals are victims of modern slavery.
The emergency social isolation measures have clearly left the most vulnerable and exploited people at the greatest risks to their finances and their health. These risks are particularly heightened with labour rights enforcement agencies forced into working from home, rather than visiting sites to conduct assessments.
The U.K. government must extend support to victims of modern slavery who are experiencing heightened vulnerabilities in the current COVID-19 crisis. Migrant workers are invaluable contributors to the national economy and we have a responsibility to ensure their freedom to reach out for healthcare and economic support during these unprecedented circumstances.
Megan is studying Geography at the University of Cambridge, with a keen interest in global health governance, feminist political ecology and human rights. She has previously volunteered on a water and sanitation project in Nicaragua. During the project, her team increased clean water access in a rural community and organised women’s empowerment groups and classes on good hygiene with children in schools. Find her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-cousins-098048164/