Baggage-handling firm may face legal action over migrant staff

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The companies used by easyJet and Ryanair to provide baggage handling and check-in services were yesterday threatened with legal action for allegedly using low-paid migrant workers on a "bogus" self-employed basis.

The GMB general union claims that the eastern Europeans, taken on by the handling agents Swissport at Stansted, are left with little more than £60 a week after essential payments and deductions by various agencies.

The unions said the staff, mostly Poles, did not receive sick pay, holiday entitlements or any other benefits enjoyed by those directly employed by Swissport. Gary Pearce, a GMB organiser, said the union was obtaining legal advice on whether the migrants were legitimately self-employed.

The union argues that the migrants can only work for one employer and would lose their accommodation if they left Swissport so that they cannot be classified as self-employed. The companies assert that they are employed on a legal basis.

The GMB points out that the Labour Source employment agency recruits the workers and also provides them with accommodation. Mr Pearce says the migrants are left with £250 a month for food and personal living expenses after paying rent, utility bills and other associated costs.

Mr Pearce said that workers had to walk three miles to Stansted Airport early in the morning along unlit country lanes. He called on Swissport to condemn the treatment of the staff and urged the company to take them on as full-time workers. "Self-employed people have the freedom to work where and when they want and so these workers are losing out on both fronts. They have no freedom to keep the money they earn or the freedom to work and live where they want to."

A spokeswoman for Labour Source said its overseas office recruited the staff. They were told what would be expected of them and how they would be employed. They were given accommodation as close as possible to their workplace and were given an interest-free loan for a deposit to secure the accommodation. They were charged just £45-a-week rent on average. They were responsible for other bills incurred at the accommodation. "The company does absolutely everything it can to help them settle into the UK," she said.

John Roberts, Swissport's human resources director, said the terms of engagement was between the agency and worker. A spokesman for Nova, which administers their self-employed status, said the migrants were not compelled to use its services.