Barnsley car wash staff paid less than half legal minimum and left to work 13 hour shifts
Car wash workers in Barnsley have been found to have been working for pay which falls well below the legal minimum – earning just £50 for a 13 hour shift – it has emerged.
Now the council has confirmed it is working closely with the Government agency which is able to enforce minimum wage rules, something the local authority cannot do itself.
Details of the circumstances endured by some workers emerged after council staff in neighbouring Wakefield discovered three men living in “appalling conditions” in that city, while being transported daily to work in Barnsley for £3.85 an hour in a car wash.
While the workers themselves were not trafficked, the pay rates were below the £4.35 minimum which has to be paid by law to under 18s and less than half the £8.21 over 25s should be able to expect as their minimum hourly rate.
Barnsley Council’s Executive Director for Communities, Wendy Lowder, said: “We work closely with our colleagues in the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), who have the authority to enforce minimum wage standards as we cannot do this as a local authority.
“We would always alert our colleagues in GLAA to any instances such as these and have conducted successful joint interventions in Barnsley involving car washes in the past couple of years.
“We are part of the sub-regional modern slavery partnership and are working with colleagues from within the council and partner organisations to ensure that there is a clear awareness of roles and responsibilities to properly address issues of this type of exploitation.”
Details of the latest case emerged from Wakefield Council’s deputy leader, Denise Jeffrey, who said officers were finding numerous cases of migrant workers living in “appalling conditions” while employed at car washes.
Enquiries made around the three men involved led enforcement teams to a car wash in Barnsley, where the men were employed, but paid less than half the minimum wage for those aged 25 and over.
In a report for next week's full council meeting, Coun Jeffery said that the three workers had been found living in "rented squalor".She added: "Their landlord had failed to carry out even the most minor repairs and was charging the tenants almost all their earnings in rent for the property.
"The three men were picked up every morning and taken to a car wash in Barnsley to work about 13 hours a day for £50.
"They have confirmed that they have not been trafficked and are working at their own volition.
"This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence and the same story is heard at nearly every car wash we visit where living conditions are generally appalling."
Last November, a committee of MPs chaired by Wakefield's Mary Creagh recommended that hand car washes be licensed in a bid to "prevent modern slavery in plain sight".
More than a quarter of cases filed by the Modern Slavery helpline concern car wash workers, but the BBC reported that there were only minimum wage 14 prosecutions in the sector between 1999 and 2018.
Back then, Ms Creagh said: "Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities.