Scandal of home-workers on 29p an hour

Parveen starts work as soon as she has packed off her four young children to school. When they return, she stops to make their evening meal, puts them to bed, clears up, and continues her work late into the night.

But at the end of a long day, filling box after box with thousands of greetings cards, the 35-year-old from Bolton is unlikely to have earned more than £12.

Parveen, paid £1 an hour, belongs to a silent army of more than one million workers in Britain systematically exploited for working at home, a survey shows. Her work is seen in leading supermarkets and high street retailers, who are among employers supplied with products from workers being denied basic working rights, the charity Oxfam said.

Some workers were paid as little as 29p an hour, two-thirds were refused paid holiday leave, and redundancy pay, maternity leave and health and safety checks were rare. Workers who complained were also frequently dismissed, said the report, to which the TUC and the National Group on Homeworking contributed.

They urge the Government to adhere to the International Convention on Homework, the standards established by the International Labour Organisation. These include basic employment rights, ranging from maternity leave to redundancy pay. The report also calls for stronger penalties for companies who fail to pay the minimum wage.

"Exploitation can include failure to pay the national minimum wage, forced overtime, no sick pay, holiday pay or maternity pay," said Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC. "Legislation on this area of the labour market is weak. If workers complain, they often lose their jobs and they are not entitled to redundancy pay."

The case of Parveen, who did not wish to be identified in case she lost her job, is typical. The study found more than 90 per cent of industrial homeworkers were female and one in two is from other countries, most from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Ashfaq, 35, from Bradford who has five children aged between three and 15, was also attracted by working flexible hours at home. But she swiftly changed her mind after spending 70 hours working round the clock packing cards and balloons into boxes. She was paid £20, which is 29p an hour.

"I didn't know how much work was involved for the money until I sat down to do it," she said. "I thought it would never finish. I became very stressed and had to get my whole family to finish it in time."

The report said nine companies were supplied with products made by exploited homeworkers, including two major supermarkets and four high street retailers. The companies have not been named in the hope that they will improve the working standards. Retailers were urged to ensure the rights of workers were guaranteed through their chains in the UK as well as abroad.

Phil Bloomer, head of the Oxfam Make Trade Fair campaign, said: "Our research uncovers the double standards of retailers who claim they want to uphold the rights of workers in their supply chain, while at the same time making it impossible for their suppliers to do so by demanding cheaper products at the expense of workers' rights.

"They get away with it because home-workers are not entitled to the same labour rights as other workers. Ensuring the minimum wage is key. The Government needs to take stronger measures to enforce payment."

'I can't complain because I need to keep working'

For Karen Reid, 45, working from home is her only option if she is to continue caring for her elderly parents who require daily visits.

But she pays a price for the luxury of being able to pack boxes full of tights for high-street stores and leading supermarkets at her Leeds home - namely her wages.

Mrs Reid, whose name has been changed, earns little more than £2 an hour for working eight-hour days, seven days a week. Frequently working late at night, she earns 20p for every two dozen pairs of tights she sorts, folds, boxes and bar codes with stickers. She vaguely remembers signing "some piece of paper" when she began working for the company eight years ago, but her employment rights are minimal.

"We don't get anything like maternity pay or paid holiday," said Mrs Reid, who lives with her husband and two of their four children. "There are periods in the summer when things are quiet and I don't work because there are no tights to pack but other than that, I never take holidays. I couldn't afford to."

Her employers, a family-run company,told her that they could not increase her pay because they are unable to sell the products for more money.

"I couldn't complain because I need to keep working," she said. "I've heard of other people complaining and then losing their jobs.

"The money isn't good but it was worse when I packed tights for another company in the 1980s."

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Thame i...

Graduate Project Manager

£25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Drama Teacher

£110 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a Drama tea...

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past