We always knew how crucial Modern Slavery Awareness training was but when our very own Lottie Galvin held a focus group here at iHASCO on this topic it highlighted something shocking. As the details of this newly released course were discussed, one of our very own employees realised they had once been subject to modern slavery when they first came to England. In order to raise awareness of this subject, one very brave employee, Maggie, came forward to tell us her story.
You can listen to the full audio by clicking on the link above to hear this insightful and powerful discussion on real life modern day slavery. However here is a summary of the discussion between Lottie and Maggie, which highlights the impact of modern day slavery on its victims.
Maggie’s story of modern slavery
At 19, Maggie initially came to England from Poland, excited at the prospect of being away from home for the first time. Only staying for a couple of weeks Maggie lived with a friend and got a job on a tomato farm. Each day Maggie would join the others in the car park at 3pm waiting for a van to collect them for work, which they were charged for. The van should have held 9 people but was filled with 20 people, packed into the back without windows or seat belts. Work wasn’t always guaranteed and if you took a day off you would not be selected for work the next day when you returned to the car park. Sometimes the van didn’t even show. When it did the shifts were 12 hours long but Maggie was keen to earn money for her driving licence. Pay was at £2.50 per hour, not the national minimum wage (£4.45 for 18-21 year olds, £5.45 for 25+ years, in October 2006). Maggie met others who were living in appalling conditions such as over crowded rooms and never being able to take a day off from work if they wanted to keep their job. Maggie believed she was the ‘lucky one’ not living in these conditions but it is hard for us to see that from Maggie’s experiences with such appalling working conditions and low pay.
When Maggie came back to England, she returned to live with her friend. She needed a job as she had to find money for rent and bills. She saw a Polish advertisement looking for cleaners and as this was her mother language she felt more comfortable enquiring about this job, especially as she had been struggling to find employment. The man on the other end of the phone spoke English but she managed to communicate with him and was told to wait in the supermarket car park the next day. A van came to collect her along with 3 other ladies. Maggie’s natural instinct was that she wasn’t sure if she should get into the van, yet as the other 3 ladies got in she felt that it would be ok. The job involved 13-14 hour days of cleaning, 7 days a week, where a big refurbishment of a pub/restaurant was taking place. The builders were still there yet there was no health and safety equipment for them such as safety shoes. There were no lunch breaks either over these incredibly long shifts - ‘we were working like mad’. It also turned out that they would not be paid for their labour. After being told they would receive payment monthly an excuse was given about the bank being closed and to meet up tomorrow, yet no one came and phone lines went dead so there was no way of chasing their pay. Maggie and these ladies worked for free for a whole month.
Lottie: It was really bad, were you scared?
Maggie: I knew something wasn't right, I knew I shouldn't be in the back of the van. I felt that whoever wrote the polish advertisement would have been in touch with them and wouldn’t let this happen.
Miserable and in debt Maggie was told about a job in a butter factory run by a Polish guy. It was a very cold environment, where you had to pack butter in boxes without gloves. If you cut yourself you were not able to stop for a plaster and were told to carry on. There was no talking in the factory and if you spoke you were screamed and sweared at - ‘you couldn’t even breathe properly’. You were told to leave if you didn't like it. As you were driven there in a car you felt unable to leave - ‘I had no idea where it was’. Maggie couldn’t face working there for longer than one week but wanted to make a full week so she could get paid to help towards her debts. As she chose to leave they did not want to pay her at all but eventually the lady who told her about the job called them on her behalf so she received her pay, but 3 weeks after leaving.
Lottie: You had a string of really bad luck.
Maggie: I didn’t know my rights. I did let people take advantage of us.
Maggie didn’t know her rights and she didn’t tell anyone about her experiences as she felt too ashamed. As her debt spiralled, Maggie was even more hesitant to return home and her pride wouldn’t let her go back with nothing. Maggie remarked ‘before training I just thought I was unlucky’. She believed that as Poland was already in the European Union she could easily get a legal job. Looking back on the whole situation, Maggie can recognise that she wasn’t treated well and was clearly a victim of Modern Slavery. Thankfully there was a happy ending. After moving in with friends she was introduced to job agencies and found legal work. Maggie came to work for iHASCO in March 2018 and is a lovely, confident and tenacious person and a real asset to the team. Lottie sums it up nicely when she relays to Maggie ‘you didn’t realise how illegal it all was until our modern slavery course so raising awareness is so crucial. You weren’t treated well at all so well done you for being so awesome’.
Maggie: It might not be a proper, proper example of modern slavery...
Lottie: It is.
As we have seen, slavery does happen even in today’s society where we have laws and protection. Talking about it and educating people to notice the signs of modern slavery is one of the steps to help eradicate these practices and give people a voice to speak up.
We are truly grateful to Maggie for bravely sharing her story with us. It shows how powerful training and education can be. Here at iHASCO we want to make a real difference with quality eLearning that can lead to a better, safer working environment for all. So much love and care goes into each and every one of our courses, no matter what the topic is, with the aim to provide quality information in an engaging way. Sometimes knowledge really is power.