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Advice for Union Reps supporting migrant whistleblowers

Protect was contacted by a Union representative who was supporting a group of migrant workers in a care home. They sought our support on the whistleblowing aspects of their members’ cases.  

The members were not UK nationals and had obtained jobs through a recruitment agency. They were made to pay a significant amount in recruitment fees. Low wage migrant workers are frequently expected to pay fees to agencies. In the UK, it is illegal to charge a fee for finding or trying to find a candidate work. The practice of charging these fees is considered a human rights abuse.  

At work, the Union’s members had several health and safety concerns about residents of the care home. The workers were also subjected to discrimination on the grounds of their nationality, given poor working conditions and excluded from certain workplace rights like holiday pay. These workers in the care home were vulnerable due to the economic pressure of paying recruitment fees as well as their employer being their visa sponsor.  

The union sought advice about how to support the group of workers who had concerns but were worried about losing their jobs if they spoke up. None of the workers wanted to stay in that role, but felt unable to leave due to their visa status.  

We advised the union rep that the workers could raise their concerns collectively to the CQC, the prescribed regulator for health and safety in care homes, on a confidential basis. We advised the union rep on the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and what the workers would need to do in order to gain protection under the Act.  

We set out that when making a disclosure to a regulator it is important to provide information substantiating the health and safety concerns, and clearly express why they are in the public interest. This can be done by presenting who is responsible for the wrongdoing, how senior they are and how many people are impacted by the wrongdoing.  

Raising concerns to meet the requirements set out in the legislation is important as it acts as a gateway to protections under the Act. If the workers were then subjected to negative treatment then they may have a legal remedy in court. We also advised that the workers could use these legal arguments to negotiate a settlement and leave their jobs.  

Exploitation of migrant workers is very concerning to Protect. Blowing the whistle is risky. 72% of the whistleblowers we advise experience some form of detriment for raising their concerns. This is particularly stark where an individual’s immigration status is tied to, and dependent on, having a job.  

We urge Union representatives or migrant workers to contact us for advice should they need it. Migrant or visa status should not be a barrier to speaking up about risk, wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplaces.  

You can call our advice line or fill out a webform here.