Trade union Peo called on the government on Wednesday to toughen its response to illegal employment following a report stating that Cyprus is among those European countries where labour exploitation has emerged as the predominant form of human trafficking.
According to the latest annual report from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Greta), in Cyprus the proportion of identified victims of labour exploitation grew from one third of the total of identified trafficking victims in 2013, to two thirds in 2015.
The main findings of the report state that trafficking for labour exploitation is on the rise across Europe. In several countries, it has overtaken sexual exploitation as the main form of human trafficking, and official figures underestimate the true scale of the problem, Greta said, adding that there had been few successful prosecutions and convictions.
Based on Greta’s country-by-country monitoring work, the report says that labour exploitation has emerged as the predominant form of trafficking in several European countries including Belgium, Cyprus, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia and the United Kingdom.
According to the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights, there are some 30,000 migrant women in Cyprus employed as domestic workers. Until recently, domestic workers were obliged to work for a certain time with the same employer, but a ministerial decision simplified the procedures for changing employers and removed the minimum time requirement.
“The commissioner has received many complaints about severe exploitation of domestic workers, but complaints lodged by domestic workers tend to be treated as a disagreement between employer and employee,” the Greta report said.
It added that from 2011 to 2014, 11 cases of suspected human trafficking among domestic workers were investigated by the Cypriot police, leading to 17 persons being identified as victims of trafficking.
In Austria and Cyprus, labour inspectors have the right to inspect private households, but rarely do so in practice,” it said.
It added that in Cyprus, there were three cases of private companies investigated for labour exploitation from 2011 to 2013, including a number of Indian nationals and one Sri Lankan who were identified as victims of human trafficking by the police.
In Cyprus, it said, joint inspection units have been established in order to inspect enterprises for employees that are not registered with the Social Insurance Fund, coordinated by the Department of Labour Relations
Peo said in an announcement that trafficking of workers “is one of the worst forms of labour exploitation”.
Measures are needed, the union said, to oblige employers to apply collective labour agreements but also to guarantee minimum decent working conditions for those not covered by such agreements.
“Systematic and rigorous checks are required of private employment offices as well as in places where workers from third countries live and work, particularly in the farming and animal husbandry sector,” the union said.
The state, it said, needed to build more effective mechanisms to support and protect victims of trafficking for labour exploitation so that victims can report abuses.
The union said that it would raise these issues during ongoing consultations with the labour ministry on matters of employment of third-country nationals and require measures “to curb this inhumane practice”.
On Tuesday, seven foreign nationals and the 37-year-old man who employed them were arrested during a raid on an establishment in Protaras.
Their employer was remanded for eight days for hiring the men to carry out renovation work on a Protaras hotel.
Famagusta district court also remanded four of the employees for four days. The three are Egyptians aged 24, 34 and 39 and one is from Syria, aged 37.
Three had entered the country illegally and one had overstayed their visa.
The remaining three employees were released after it was found they live in Cyprus legally.
According to new legislation that has been in force since last September, employers are fined €500 for each illegal employee, going six months back, bringing the total possible fine per illegal worker to €3,500.