Investigations by the Telegraph have found out that Zimbabwean nurses are being tricked into going to the United Kingdom by unscrupulous middlemen who withhold up to half their wages and force them to live in poverty.
The agencies – often run by Zimbabweans in the UK and unregulated – are reportedly taking advantage of the acute shortages of nursing and care staff across Britain’s hospitals and care homes as well as poor wages in Zimbabwe to lure the health care workers to the UK.
Jim Moyo (not real name), who moved to the UK from Harare in November 2018 to work in a care home in Margate, told Telegraph that exploitation of Zimbabwean health professionals in the UK is rampant. Said Moyo:
When you are working for an agency [in the UK], they pay you 50 per cent of your total salary.
You are getting paid £14 per hour, but then these guys will pay you £7.
He added that, once the tax was deducted, he was left with just £4 per hour for “rent, food and all sorts of expenses”. Said Moyo:
[The agency] tells you: ‘I paid for your accommodation, flights, visa, [I’m] your sponsor’. It’s like a hideous loan.
Hillary Musarurwa, a Zimbabwe-born social scientist in England, said:
Exploitation does not start on arrival [in the UK]. It starts during the application process [in Zimbabwe].
Not only health care workers are leaving Zimbabwe for the UK but also ex-teachers and geologists are retraining for UK care work, according to Joseph Zuze (not real name), a trainee nurse at Mutare Hospital, who plans to emigrate to the UK when he graduates.
The Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) is highly coveted, which has led to it being exploited by middlemen, according to Zimbabweans.
Zuze told Telegraph that he and his wife had been scammed by “agents” who charged $380 to put her on the training waitlist, despite the official Red Cross certification costing just $300.
These agents are not in any way employed, endorsed or contracted by Red Cross Zimbabwe and there is no evidence Red Cross Zimbabwe is aware of them. Said Zuze:
This has created another huge web of corruption; care agencies in the UK, run by Zimbabwe nationals, [are] gifting the COS to their relatives and friends first and anyone else [faces] hefty fees that reach £4,000.
Another Zimbabwe-born nurse working for the NHS in North London claimed that she knew someone in the UK “charging £7,000”.
Taffi Nyawanza, head of immigration at Mezzle Law in Birmingham who is well-known in Zimbabwe’s UK diaspora community, said:
UK law is clear. A recruitment agency cannot charge a fee for ‘placing’ an employee.
The person who ‘assigns’ or prepares and allocates the [COS] must not be related to the prospective employee.
[If] this is the case, the relationship must be fully disclosed to the Home Office.
However regulation of these agencies is weak. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) suggested that although it is unacceptable that some overseas-based agencies are charging fees to place candidates with jobs in Britain, it cannot do anything about it because the actors are not under UK jurisdiction. Said a spokesperson:
We understand repayment clauses may be used by some organisations to recoup upfront costs if internationally recruited staff do not meet the terms of their contract.
The vast majority of care workers are employed by private sector providers who ultimately set their pay, terms and conditions independent of central government.
However, we would be concerned if repayment costs were disproportionate or punitive.
According to Tich Dauramanzi, a Zimbabwe-born engineer who ran a legitimate care staffing agency in Stoke-on-Trent until 2017, the health care workers are also subject to zero-hours contracts, which means an employer does not guarantee the individual any hours of work. He said:
This is slavery happening in front of our eyes. I strongly believe we are going to have a court case very soon. Most of these employers owe people more money than they can ever pay.
[Recruitment companies] are recruiting a lot of young [Zimbabweans]. For some, this is the first time they have been employed.
Most of them are gripped by the fear factor. They’re told ‘here’s your only chance to come to the UK.