Case study 5 -"Karina" (Britain, 2006)

Contract slavery

Between April 2004 and March 2006, around 10,000 migrant workers, mainly from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia, but also from Middle Eastern and African countries, arrived in Britain in the northeastern town of Hull. There they worked mainly for gangmasters and employment agencies.

"Karina" (Britain, 2006)

Read information about Britain and Latvia.

"Karina" left her young children behind with other family members in Latvia when she came to London in her early 20s for work.

"Karina's" story

I paid a fee of £100 to an employment agency to find me a job. The agency took my passport, saying they needed to send it to the Home Office for registration. Four months later I had not received my passport back. I did not know, at that time, that the agency had never sent it off. Without my passport I felt that I couldn't leave the agency.

They had moved me nearly 200 miles away to Hull. My accommodation was a room shared with two men I didn't know. I worked 16-hour shifts in factories, and sometimes had to do overtime, and I wasn't paid for that. Sometimes I had to work double shifts in factories in different towns and I slept as I was driven from one to the other.

My wages were often miscalculated, so I got less than I should have. Sometimes I and other migrant workers worked two shifts but were only paid for one. The agency said they deducted money for "administration" or "transport". If I complained about the length of the shifts or about the bad pay, they threatened that I would lose my job and accommodation. I didn't know where to go for advice; my English was not good and I had no friends. I was trapped.

Questions and discussion points

  • Why do you think the agency took "Karina's" passport?
  • Why do you think the agency found her work so far away?
  • How do you think she was affected by the accommodation they provided for her?
  • What would you like to ask or say to "Karina"?

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