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London, Feb 11 – A UK government investigative agency for labour exploitation has said that it has succeeded in getting a court order against five people from Kerala for suspected labour abuse of more than 50 Indian students.
Investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) were granted a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO) indefinitely against the defendants at Mold Magistrates’ Court last week.
The GLAA said in a release that its probe identified “more than 50 Indian students as being potential victims of modern slavery and labour abuse over the last 14 months” while working at care homes in North Wales.
The five, between the age groups of 25 to 47, have been identified as Mathew Issac and Jinu Cherian from Abergele, Eldhose Cherian, Eldhose Kuriachan and Jacob Liju from Pwllheli, a statement released by the AGLAA said.
They were arrested by the GLAA between December 2021 and May 2022. Investigations are ongoing but there have been no criminal charges at this stage.
Reacting to the report, the Indian High Commission in the UK on Friday appealed to the Indian students to reach out for help and counselling.
“We were concerned to read this news. Indian students who have suffered this, please contact us at email@example.com, and we will provide help/counselling. We assure you of confidentiality in our response,” the Indian High Commission tweeted.
GLAA said Issac and his wife Jinu Cherian also supplied workers through Alexa Care Solutions, a recruitment agency registered in May 2021.
Reports to the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline three months later claimed that Indian workers employed by Alexa Care were not being paid correctly or were having their wages withheld.
Significant concerns were raised at the same time about the workers’ appearance and that they always appeared to be hungry, the agency revealed.
The STRO orders all five to inform the GLAA of any change of name or address within seven days, and allow GLAA access, at any reasonable time, to where they are living to establish and confirm that the STRO is being complied with.
Breaching the order is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
“We are all aware that staffing levels have been a cause concern in the care sector for some time, and have not been helped by the Covid pandemic,” GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said.
“Unfortunately, where labour shortages exist, there is an increased risk of opportunists using the situation for their own financial gain, usually at the expense of workers that they are exploiting.
“Tackling the exploitation of workers in care homes is one of the GLAA’s top priorities, and this order is crucial in restricting the activities of those we suspect would otherwise commit slavery or trafficking offences,” Plimmer said in a GLAA statement.
In the UK, the number of people identified as victims of modern slavery has been rising year on year, with over 12,000 people referred to the authorities in 2021, according to rights body Anti-Slavery International.
The real number of people trapped in slavery is estimated to be much higher — more than 130,000 people — and is estimated to cost the UK 33 billion pounds per year, it said.