Multi-agency operation at a hand car wash in Ballyclare

  • 31 January 2020

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Detectives from PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) along with partners in HMRC, Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Northern Ireland Water and Department of Communities carried out a multi-agency operation at a hand car wash in the Ballyclare area today, Friday, 31 January.

Whilst there was no evidence of human trafficking or modern slavery offences at the hand car wash police visited today, we would still appeal to the public to continue to report any concerns they might have to us.  Operations like this are regularly conducted following concerns raised from the public about potential human trafficking at car washes. 

Police take information like this extremely seriously and where we receive such information we will 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.

When we speak to workers away from their managers or the owners of the car washes, the vast majority state 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, although in some instances workers are being paid below the national minimum wage.

Some of the hand car washes are not complying with health and safety legislation and fail to provide appropriate protective clothing for staff working in cold and wet conditions.  In these cases, it is clear 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.”

Some of the signs and indicators of people potentially being subjected to exploitation in hand car washes include:-

Workers who are not appropriately dressed or kitted out with protective equipment for the 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

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 contact the appropriate authorities so that they can make that decision.

Anyone who has any concerns at all contact police on the non-emergency number 101.