Migrant workers: Charity demands more help for Barking casual labourers

Casual labourers outside Wickes in Hertford Road, Barking

Casual labourers outside Wickes in Hertford Road, Barking - Credit: Vishal Thaper

An east London charity which helps migrants and refugees is calling on the local authorities to do more to help casual labourers, who attempt to flag down work in Barking.

The staff of the migrant workers charity RAMFEL at their base in Ilford. Nihad Fathi, Anna Tucket,

The staff of the migrant workers charity RAMFEL at their base in Ilford. Nihad Fathi, Anna Tucket, Sorayya Gul, Rita Chadha and Nick Beales - Credit: Archant

Every morning, up to 30 people can be seen gathering on the corner of Hertford Road, outside Wickes, in the hope of securing a day’s work cash in hand.

Although Rita Chadha, 43, chief executive of the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London, insists this isn’t against the law, she stresses it can be dangerous.

“They’re European citizens so they all have a right to work here, they’re not doing anything illegal,” she said.

“The danger is they’re likely to be exploited or paid minimum wage, if they’re paid at all.

“A lot of them are new to the UK so don’t know the system.”

Many of those queueing up are unfamiliar with national insurance and accessing government support, but Rita says it would only take a day to resolve, if resources were pooled.

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“With the help of the council and the police we could just go down, and then get them registered with national insurance and explain the system to them,” she added.

“We did the same thing with a Polish national in Barking and as far as we’re aware he hasn’t been back since, so we can get results.”

Painter Constantin Bulgarescu, 29, from East Ham, said he moved from Spain to the UK at the start of January and has been coming to the hotspot ever since.

“I come here everyday – I need work,” he said. “I have two children so I’m here for my family, but I’m scared for them. It’s really hard to get a job.

“It can be dangerous just getting into a stranger’s car but what can I do? I have to do it.”

Rita has heard horror stories from across the capital where workers aren’t aware they’re entitled to free health care.

“There was one worker who was being paid £1 a day and fell off a building site, injuring the bottom part of his leg,” she said.

“He didn’t want to go to hospital because he didn’t realise he was entitled and had part of it amputated – that’s how bad it can get.”

RAMFEL is celebrating its 24th anniversary this week but Rita insists things have become harder for immigrants over that time.

“We’ve been dealing with this sort of thing since we started but with the tighter restrictions on migrant workers it becomes harder and harder,” she said.

A council spokesman said it could seek to impose a Public Space Protection Order.

“In regards to immigration offences this would be the remit of the Home Office, however, from the council’s trading standard’s point of view we would urge consumers to be vigilant over rogue traders using illegal labour and cold calling homes,” he added.