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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there