Parliament to act after BBC human traffic probe

A BBC investigation into human trafficking of Eastern European workers in the UK has resulted in an early day motion in Parliament calling for "immediate action" from the Government.

Last week's broadcast on the Ten O'Clock News exposed a new underclass subjected to a series of systematic abuses by British gangmasters operating illegally.

It showed undercover Lithuanian journalist Audrius Lelkaitis posing as a migrant worker seeking a job in the UK.

After three weeks of living in appalling conditions, working 128 hours and being transported to different destinations at will, Lelkaitis was paid £47.

After the broadcast on 25 April, employment minister Jim Fitzpatrick told Newsnight last week he would look into the case.

Both the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the UK Human Trafficking Centre are also looking at the BBC evidence.

Conservative MP David Davis tabled the EDM last Friday (27 April), congratulating the BBC for the investigation and calling for immediate action from the Government "and if necessary introducing emergency legislation, to prevent these abuses from continuing".

BBC News correspondent Allan Little said that it was one story that had not previously been told because of difficulty of access to, and the fear of, the workers affected.

He said that the immigrant workers were different from those whose exploitation had been revealed before such as the Chinese cockle pickers who, for the most part, are here illegally, trafficked in the classic way, entering the country without permission, without the right papers.

Little said: "East European migrants are here quite legally. They don't need visas, they don't need work permits, they are citizens of the European Union so their right to work here is as entrenched in the law as yours or mine is."

Little said that while most Eastern Europeans working in the UK were doing so legitimately and without exploitation, a group of unskilled non-English speaking workers were dependable on gangmasters to be their intermediary.

"It's that slice of the migrant community that's most vulnerable to the abuses we highlighted," he said.

The story originated from the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, when the BBC team wanted to look at the levels of slavery worldwide and specifically in Britain.

Newsgathering producer Annie Allison was put on the story in conjunction with BBC Manchester Investigations unit, which resulted in a strong lead in Hull.

At this point, the BBC employed the Lithuanian journalist to work undercover. Lelkaitis arranged to meet an intermediary in London, whom he secretly filmed when they met at Paddington station.

The man, who purported to work for a company called CCCP UK Ltd, asked for £160 without receipt and told the journalist to travel to Hull via Victoria station.

In Hull, Lelkaitis was directed to sleep in a bedroom with two others, went six days without work and was told he was moving to North Yorkshire with 20 minutes' notice.

The BBC discovered that CCCP UK Ltd was not a licensed gangmaster and not registered as a company.

"So there you have a company which doesn't exist, active in the supply of labour which is a criminal offence," said Little. "Moving people around the country without their consent is trafficking."

Little praised both Lelkaitis and BBC Ten O'Clock News editor Craig Oliver for investing resources and airtime to the exposé.

Oliver, who is just over a year in the role, told Press Gazette that the Ten O'Clock News team wanted to do this kind of "original journalism" but as part of the programme's portfolio.

"Do we want to do it every night? No, because that's not necessarily why the viewers watch the Ten O'Clock News, but as part of our portfolio, three or four times a year we certainly want to be able to do this kind of thing."

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