Investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) have secured a slavery order against the owner of a Thanet hand car wash.
Margate Magistrates’ Court approved the GLAA’s application for an interim Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO) against Genc Gjocaj at a hearing yesterday (July 27).
Gjocaj, who owns The Palm Bay Car Wash on Northdown Road in Cliftonville, must follow all the restrictions within the STRO in place until October.
The car wash had been visited by the GLAA and Kent Police earlier this year with concerns identified around the absence of protective equipment, contracts and payslips for the workers.
There was also no evidence of any record keeping by Gjocaj in relation to tax and National Insurance, and the hours worked by his employees.
The 50-year-old, of Elmwood Court, Battersea Park Road, London, has been ordered not to recruit people with no legal status in the UK.
He must not employ anyone who does not have a valid National Insurance number.
The order also compels him to keep full written records of all employees and their employment. These must be provided to officers upon request.
Gjocaj must pay his workers the National Minimum Wage and provide wage slips and contracts to them in their own language.
He must allow officers entry during business hours to inspect conditions and speak to the workers, and to inform the GLAA in writing of any changes in ownership of this car wash or any other owned or controlled by him
The final restrictions placed on Gjocaj force him to register with Companies House and pay business rates to the local authority. This means he must pay tax and National Insurance and record the hours worked by his employees accurately.
The Palm Bay Car Wash is not associated with Palm Bay MOT Service Centre which is an entirely separate business.
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Jen Baines has been with the Gangmasters Licence and Abuse Authority (GLAA) since it was established in 2005 and looks after a swathe of the UK coastline covering Portsmouth to Suffolk.
Ms Baines knows the isle coastline intimately after growing up in east Kent.
She said: “There are around 5,000 hand car washes in the UK and while we understand that many operate legally, unfortunately there still remain issues with others.
“The problems at hand car washes can be wide-ranging. In addition to vulnerable workers being exploited for their labour, we often see failings around payment of the National Minimum Wage, environmental breaches, and health and safety legislation being disregarded.
“This is the first STRO we have secured in Kent and we will not hesitate to take action with our partners if we find that any of the restrictions are being breached.”
The GLAA’s application was supported by Kent Police.
PC Glenn Castle of Kent Police’s Community Policing Team in Thanet said: “Victims of modern slavery are often hidden in plain sight. They may not realise they are being exploited, and very often they will not know the working conditions they are entitled to or where to seek help if things are not right.
“As part of the work of Thanet’s Community Policing Team and the Thanet Multi- Agency Task Force, we aim to safeguard vulnerable people who might be at risk of forced labour by criminals and we will regularly pay visits to businesses in the district to review practices and offer support to staff. We check they are being paid properly, that working conditions are safe as well as other factors, such as employers adhering to correct and legal practices.
“Through joint working with GLAA, we will continue to make sure people are safe at work.”
Find out more about how to spot the signs of labour exploitation at hand car washes by listening to this GLAA podcast produced with the Responsible Car Wash Scheme.
If you have concerns that a car wash near you is exploiting its workers, contact the GLAA’s intelligence team on 0800 4320804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also download the Safe Car Wash app developed by the Clewer Initiative and report your concerns there.
Alternatively, call the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.