Housework, cleaning work, care work – these are all jobs that are barely or poorly paid and thus suggest a high number of unreported cases of human trafficking.
Modern slavery also takes place in Austrian private households, as cleaning, care and nursing staff usually cannot be fully remunerated, and these sectors are not given enough consideration in our social system.
MODERN SLAVES IN EVERYDAY LIFE
In Austria, too, people are exploited in the area of housework and childcare. Housework and caring for children are jobs that society does not see in our economic system or does not take seriously. However, this mostly invisible work has to take place every day as the basis of our society. Housework or cleaning work is time-consuming, monotonous, physically demanding and is seen as a burden.
Taking care of children is demanding, individually and logistically quite challenging and the carer(s) must be flexible. This work is complex, sometimes nerve-wracking and can be compared to on-call duty. These are jobs that are not considered prestigious and are very poorly paid or not paid at all. In many families, this work usually has to be done by women who already have jobs. It is a tragic paradox that modern European women who want to live independently, often outsource this work to migrants, who gladly accept salaries below Austrian standards or who have become dependent on job opportunities through deception and cannot find a way out.
In January 2020, a case in Tyrol, one of the states in Austria, was discovered, in which 8 young women were victims of such labour exploitation. ‘Some of these young women had to work up to 105 hours a week and were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor with other people. In two cases, according to the witness statements, the survivors were also sexually assaulted by a third person. Women had been lured to Tyrol with the promise of an adequate accommodation and sufficient pocket money with a maximum of 20 hours of work per week and days off. In addition, according to the State Criminal Police Office, the prospect of attending a free German course was promised.’
In addition, rationalisations and savings in companies ensure that cleaning tasks in large buildings are outsourced to external companies, as these supposedly offer better standards of hygiene and cheaper services. The pressure in this industry is enormous and companies are imaginative in finding ways to offer the cheapest prices for their services.
THE ESTIMATED NUMBER OF UNKNOWN CASES OF MODERN SLAVERY IN PRIVATE HOUSES AND IN THE CLEANING INDUSTRY IS CONSIDERED TO BE VERY HIGH
Most cases of human trafficking in Austria can be found in forced prostitution. However, the form of modern slavery with the highest number of unreported cases is likely to be forced labour in housework. Domestic help in the gastronomy sector, hotels or private households can be victims of household slavery. The private sector is associated with increased expenditure for the possibility of control in one owns household and the catering and hotel industries are often characterised by high staff turnover and seasonal work. People affected by human trafficking can easily go undetected.
Today, new cleaning agencies pop up constantly on the market, often family businesses or company structures with orders to subcontractors with temporary staff or bogus self-employment. Above all, people with a migration background are often exploited here, as it is easier to deceive them about the labour law framework in a foreign country. ‘The number of private employment agencies recruiting for both the domestic and foreign markets has increased significantly across Europe in recent years. The boundaries between legal and illegal placement are often blurred. Qualitative analyses have showed that the recruiters use an extremely wide network in both legal and illegal areas to recruit people.’
WHEN IS IT A BADLY PAID JOB AND WHEN IS IT FORCED LABOUR OR HUMAN TRAFFICKING?
Precarious employment often transitions into forced labour and it is sometimes difficult to determine where actual cases of human trafficking occur. Exploitation occurs as soon as health protection is not ensured by the employer or there is no fair remuneration, no adequate accommodation or legally valid employment contracts. In any case, it is household slavery when the domestic help is employed illegally because of debt bondage to the family. Human trafficking and forced labour exist when the person concerned has been forced into a dependent relationship through fraud, deception and / or violence. Those affected are treated as goods and experience deprivation of liberty or a significant restriction of their freedom of movement. Often, those affected are in that country illegally or their ID documents are withheld by the traffickers.
Clear warning signs for household slavery or modern slavery in restaurants and hotels are the quarters of those affected, which can only be locked from the outside or are controlled by other security systems. Further signs are excessive working hours with constant availability around the clock. Furthermore, those affected are sometimes noticeable in the sense that they never leave the house and do not have any social contacts or social activities.
At HOPE FOR THE FUTURE we know how ‘invisible’ modern slavery is in our country. As an association we are well networked and thanks to our partner organisations we know the conditions of human trafficking in Austria. Anyone who knows more about the background of human trafficking sees more and is asked to contribute to the abolition of modern slavery in Austria through moral courage and awareness of the topic. Keep informed and continue to support our work in the future.
Translated by Sophie Kitchen