Forced labour has become the most prevalent form of modern slavery in Malta, according to the CEO of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.

“In the early 2000s, it was mostly Eastern European women who were victims, and organised prostitution was the issue. Now there’s been a shift to labour exploitation,” Alfred Grixti told a seminar to mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

The seminar heard harrowing accounts about the way trafficking victims are exploited and even punished, such as the case of a domestic worker who was forcefully fed salt after cooking food that was too salty.

When discovered by the police, the victim had no documents and was not being paid.

Many victims of human trafficking borrowed sums of money to travel to Malta, where they would have been promised certain work and certain wages. But conditions often fell well short of these promises and the money owed was used to keep these victims “enslaved”.

Threats to family and friends in the country of origin forced some victims to remain silent, as was the case with one Colombian woman forced into prostitution. 

In another case in St Paul’s Bay, two Hungarians, one a minor, were subjected to violence and also forced into prostitution by members of their own family.

This trend of forced labour could be understood in the context of the growing foreign workforce, Identity Malta senior manager Ryan Spagnol told the seminar. 

Fifty-eight per cent of local companies employ one or more foreign workers, he said. 

Migrants originating in countries with a lower standard of living were more vulnerable to falling prey to exploitation, he added.

Mr Spagnol said such cases did not fall under his entity’s remit but it worked closely with the foundation and the police on the issue.  

Identity Malta is responsible for processing personal documentation and frequently comes into contact with foreign workers who show signs of exploitation.

Victim had no documents and was not being paid

Among the anti-human trafficking measures planned by the entity are better engagement with prospective workers in the country of origin and the introduction of an electronic fingerprint system in the collection of documents. 

A campaign is to be launched to inform foreign workers of their rights.

Lara Dimitrijevic, director of the Women’s Rights Foundation who has worked in the field for a number of years, observed that the authorities were becoming more aware of the situation and appropriate training was being provided. 

“Still, of course more needs to be done. Labour officers could be introduced to monitor certain sectors as the cleaning, construction and caring industries, where exploitation tends to be more prevalent,” she said.

“The way some people are brought here to work is like you’re ordering goods. These are human beings and there needs to be better regulation in the industries they work in,” said Dr Dimitrijevic, adding that she was pleased to see that these were being addressed. 

Domestic servitude and sexual and labour exploitation were forms of modern slavery in Malta, assistant police commissioner Dennis Theuma told the seminar. 

“Debt bondage and deceit are common features of labour exploitation,” said Mr Theuma. 

He said comprehensive regulation of temping agencies, as well as better regulation of massage parlours and gentlemen’s clubs, was needed to address the issue of trafficking into the future.

Last year the foundation gave assistance to 48 victims of human trafficking, nearly two thirds of whom were women. Most were from the Ukraine (23), while 17 were from the Philippines and four from Mauritius. A Nepalese, a Moldovan, a Pakistani and a Romanian were also taken under the wing of the foundation.

Are you a victim of forced labour, or do you know somebody who is? Call 179 or email for free and confidential help.

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