Journalist uncovers U.K. 'slavery'

  • 2007-05-02
  • By Arturas Racas
VILNIUS - A Lithuanian journalist, Audrius Lelkaitis, has caused a stir in Great Britain by uncovering how migrant workers are being trafficked into the U.K. and exploited there. Lelkaitis in April took part in a BBC investigation posing as a migrant worker seeking a job in the United Kingdom. His undercover work and the evidence he collected was broadcast by the BBC on April 26, sparking calls to action from British politicians, trade unions and labor experts.

British Employment Protection Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said he took the findings "most seriously" adding that any firm found to have breached minimum standards of "dignity and respect" would be "taken to task."
Some of the experts said that the BBC investigation had revealed a type of modern day slavery.
Lelkaitis, 33, a lecturer at Vilnius University and freelance journalist, told The Baltic Times it was a unique experience for him.
"Hidden cameras and microphones, fear that you may be detected 's you usually see that in the movies. But for me it was all a reality," Lelkaitis said.

He first paid 180 British pounds (257 euros)to an employment agency in Lithuania for a job in Hull, with a salary of 5.35 pounds per hour.
Lelkaitis was supposed to have a job offering 50 hours per week but when he arrived in Hull nobody knew about him and there was no job available.
"At first I was sitting there with no job, no money and with no prospects for the future. It was no problem for me as I knew what I was doing, but imagine if I were a real migrant who came for work? You need to eat somewhere, you have to live somewhere and it all costs. I don't know how I would feel then," Lelkaitis said.

A licensed company called Focus Staff Limited later offered him a job in a chemical factory.
"We worked 12 hours a night. And it was not a job I would recommend for anybody. We did not have helmets, nobody gave us the special shoes required for this job, and I had to operate a crane, which I have never done before. And then I was transporting other workers back home by car after work, although I do not have the required qualification for this," Lelkaitis recalled.

His first payment was 97 pounds for 20 hours work, but 50 pounds were deducted for accommodation costs.
"The accommodation needs special description as it was a big room where twelve people lived together. Men and women lived together, and there was at least one couple among them. The atmosphere here is very tense, people are nervous. It's like a separate community; it does not communicate with the outside world. People drink a lot, they watch Russian television, Russian movies and communicate among themselves in Russian. A small Soviet Union, I would say. Sometimes it was very hard to pretend you are part of them," Lelkaitis said.

"Earlier I thought that those who go abroad for work have the chance to see the world, to learn languages and discover other cultures. Now I know it is not like this, at least for many of the migrants. I even doubt that those people earn more money than they would earn at home living and working in the same conditions" Lelkaitis added. Vygaudas Usackas, Lithuania's ambassador to the United Kingdom, said he was shocked by the BBC report.

"I received many calls from British politicians who were shocked and surprised by the report. I am also surprised at why people do not seek help if they are so mistreated. They could call the embassy and we would assist them, but nobody has asked for help," Usackas said in an interview with Lithuanian public radio. It is estimated that some 100,000-150,000 Lithuanians have left the country in search of better pay since May 2004, when the Baltic country joined the European Union. Great Britain and Ireland are the two main countries that attract Lithuanian jobseekers.