A hand car wash in Belfast has been raided after the alert was raised by a member of the public about possible human trafficking.
No arrests were made following the raid, which was carried out by police, HM Revenue & Customs staff; Home Office Immigration Enforcement and Northern Ireland Water.
Police revealed they have identified six potential victims of labour exploitation over the course of a multi-agency operation over the past several years, it has been revealed.
They have spoken to 212 workers and investigated 48car washes since 2015 with other agencies aimed at identifying other victims.
Detectives said they are committed to investigating any information they receive of this nature.
Detective Inspector Mark Bell from PSNI’s MSHT Unit said: “Labour exploitation, like all forms of modern slavery and human trafficking, often goes undetected and unreported as victims are often controlled through fear and violence.
“When we speak to the workers, away from their managers or the owners, the vast majority state that they are not working under duress and there is no evidence of them being controlled or held against their will. Many indicate that they are content with their pay and conditions as they feel it is still more than they would otherwise have earned at home.
“There is no doubt that many of these hand car washes are being run as legitimate businesses, working ethically and responsibly and doing their best to comply with all the regulations. However in some of these hand car washes, workers have told us they are being paid between £10 and £60 per day for carrying out this work in the cold.”
Detective Inspector Bell said it is clear in these cases that the owners are taking advantage of the workers’ situation and their lack of knowledge of the law and their entitlements.
He said by adopting a multi-agency approach to the issue, a wide range of powers can be utilised by all of the relevant agencies to best protect the worker and enforce any employment or safety legislation that is breached.
“Whilst few potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking have been recovered from hand car washes, this does not mean that we are complacent. We will continue to carry out proactive operations, as they give us the opportunity to assess if any workers are potential victims of trafficking and conduct follow up visits at their homes to check on them again and look at their living conditions, with their consent.
“Partners have carried out investigations in relation to tax evasion, benefit fraud and health and safety issues. As a result of some of these investigations, car washes have been closed down or the owners no longer operate in Northern Ireland.”
He urged the public to be aware of workers at hand car washes who are not wearing the correct protective equipment, electricity being bypassed from a public electrical post, workers living on site and under control, or houses of multiple occupancy with up to 20 people being transported to and from a hand car wash daily.
“Whilst it is important to note that the presence of one or two of these signs and indicators in isolation does not necessarily mean that the people involved are victims of trafficking or being forced to work against their will, it is best to let the appropriate authorities make that decision so I continue to encourage the public to report any concerns to PSNI on 101,” he said.