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Portadown car wash closed as detectives investigate potential human trafficking concerns

A hand car wash in Portadown was today (Wednesday) temporarily closed as detectives investigate concerns of potential human trafficking.

Detectives from PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) along with colleagues from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team and partners in HMRC, the Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI) and the Department for Communities carried out a multi-agency operation at a hand car wash in the Co. Armagh town earlier today.

As a result of the proactive operation, which aimed to identify potential victims and raise awareness with the public about the signs that they should be looking out for, the car wash was temporarily closed by the HSENI in order for necessary work to be undertaken.

Detective Inspector Mark Bell from PSNI’s MSHTU said: “We regularly conduct these operations as a result of information received from the public, raising concerns about potential human trafficking at the car wash.

“When we receive information of this nature, we take it extremely seriously and we will continue to carry out proactive operations, as they give us the opportunity to assess if any workers are potential victims of trafficking.

“We also conduct follow up visits at their homes to check on them again and look at their living conditions, with their consent.

“Whilst we have spoken to over 200 workers, to date only six potential victims of labour exploitation have been recovered from hand car washes.

“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.

“Some of the hand car washes are also not complying with health and safety legislation and are failing to provide appropriate protective clothing for staff working in cold and wet conditions.

“In these cases, it is clear that the owners are taking advantage of the workers’ situation and their lack of knowledge of the law and their entitlements.

“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 there was no evidence of human trafficking or modern slavery offences at the hand car wash that we visited today, we need the public to continue to report any concerns that they might have to us.

“Some of the signs and indicators of people potentially being subjected to exploitation in hand car washes to look out for include:

– Workers not appropriately dressed or kitted out with protective equipment for these weather conditions
– Electricity being bypassed at a car wash from a public electrical post
– Evidence of workers living on site at the car wash
– Someone working who appears to be under the strict control of others
– Houses of multiple occupancy, for example 15- 20 people living in a three bedroom house who are being transported to and from a car wash.

“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.”

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