Withholding wages, documents or remuneration of workers to coerce them into completing tasks or duties, or to work in poor conditions, amounts to forced labour.
Forced labour is a form of modern slavery and can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily, under duress or on any other basis that affects in the employee’s free and informed consent to the employment arrangement. Modern slavery refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through violence or intimidation, or through subtler means such as manipulation of finances, imposition of debts, retention of identity papers or threats to report the individual to immigration authorities. Migrant workers are also more commonly affected as they often do not speak the local language, may have limited support networks, and so may become dependent on their employers.
The International Labour Organization prescribes 11 indicators of forced labour conditions: abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime.
Every worker has the right to just and favourable conditions of work, including secure and reliable remuneration by employers. Employers must never withhold a worker’s earned wages, remuneration or identity documents for any reason. Businesses should ensure wages are paid regularly so that an employee does not worry about when they will receive payment – a situation where the worker could be at risk of losing housing or access to other essential services. Employees should have their wages appropriately and legally recorded to enable the raising of any issues of underpayment and to keep a record of their income, which can be used to gain access to credit, secure housing or meet visa requirements.