Bulgarians Often Become Victims of Labor Exploitation Abroad – EU-wide Study
Bulgarians often become victims of labor exploitation abroad, according to a report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).
FRA’s new report is the first of its kind to comprehensively explore all criminal forms of labor exploitation in the EU affecting workers moving within or into the EU.
The findings show that criminal labor exploitation is extensive in a number of industries, particularly agriculture, construction, hotel and catering, domestic work, and manufacturing, and also that perpetrators are at little risk of prosecution or of having to compensate victims.
According to the findings of the FRA, corruption is identified as one of the main legal and institutional risk factors for labor exploitation in Greece and Bulgaria.
According to the report, in half of EU Member States (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden) slavery, servitude and forced labor are criminalized only in specific contexts.
The report shows that Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and Slovenia protect only third country nationals in irregular situations
As regards severe forms of labor exploitation, some existing services exclude particular groups.
Institutional bodies that work on trafficking in human beings often focus exclusively on cases that are investigated and prosecuted as such. Therefore the help they provide is not accessible to victims of severe labor exploitation unless the case also comes under trafficking, as can be observed for instance in Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
For example, in Bulgaria the legal framework concerning social assistance or access to support services for victims of trafficking in human beings does often not allow bodies to include cases of severe labor exploitation.
Apart from that expert interviews and case studies identified in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom, show that, in trying to access support services and justice, workers often face a lack of sensitivity on the part of authorities.
In a significant number of EU Member States including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland – evidence supports the view that, for victims of labor exploitation, the conditions for accessing rights and justice are, at best, precarious.
Workers who have moved within or into the EU face conditional or no access to victim support, legal assistance, representation or interpretation.
They also encounter disbelief and distrust from the authorities regarding the truth and seriousness of their allegations.
Furthermore, they risk being deported for their irregular status, being held liable for violations committed while they were being exploited and being threatened by the perpetrator.
Those who find themselves in immigration detention or prison are even more vulnerable to being left without effective access to assistance and remedies. Hence, victims rarely file complaints on their own.
Overall, third party interventions and collective claims are either not allowed by law or, where possible, rarely used in cases of labor exploitation.
In about a quarter of Member States, interested private parties, including NGOs, can intervene on behalf of victims (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain).
However, referrals of victims of severe forms of labor exploitation to NGOs offering support are rare for example in France or do not take place at all, as in Bulgaria.
On a positive note, Bulgaria ranges among the few Member States that, according to statistics published by Eurostat, have prosecuted substantial numbers of labor traffickers.
According to Eurostat (2014), in Bulgaria a total of 109 persons were prosecuted for trafficking in 2012, 60 % of whom (some 65 persons) were prosecuted for labor trafficking. In the same year, a total of 105 persons were convicted of (any form of) trafficking in Bulgaria.
As regards the role of recruitment agencies, EU Member States are divided, with some of the countries viewing them as preventing labor exploitation and some as fostering it. The latter was the view of experts interviewed in Austria, Bulgaria, and the United Kingdom.
Recruitment agencies are involved in the exploitation of workers moving within or into the EU by charging fees to which they are not entitled, and they make it more difficult for workers to understand their legal situation, often adding to the lack of transparency caused by other factors, including the absence of written contracts, according to the report.
Experts in a number of countries, including Germany, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom, admit that the resources available for monitoring and inspection services are limited, with significant understaffing resulting in few inspections.
The percentage of employers subject to inspection or monitoring was not reported for this research; by way of indication, however, the 2014 European Commission report on the application of the Employer Sanctions Directive found that the number of inspections carried out is unlikely to dissuade an employer from employing a third country national in an irregular situation. In Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia, less than 1 % of all employers were inspected.
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