Labour Trafficking Poses New Challenges for Lithuania

Caritas Lithuania, the project partner in trade unions-NGO labour trafficking project (FINE TUNE) together with trade unions and repersentatives from National Labour Inspectorate, Lithuanian Police Bureau, Lithuanian Labour Exchange and Ministry of Social Security and Labour today held a meeting in Vilnius to discuss the increasing problem of trafficking for labour exploitation in Lithuanian society entitled: "The Labour Trafficking to Lithuania: indications and statistics".

Forced labour in Europe today is largely a result of human trafficking and irregular migration. It involves deception, coercion, threats or actual physical harm, and debt bondage. The numbers of convictions of traffickers and unscrupulous employers are low, so trafficking continues to grow and cases of exploitation get more and more severe.

The the topic of labour trafficking to Lithuania is new and - as many experts admitted - quite challenging. Still many express opinion that labour trafficking to Lithuania (or within the country borders) is marginal as the country is not an attractive destination for migrants while the requirements for work permit are quite strict. However, as discussed during the meeting, the Criminal Polic Bureau for some time receives signals about groups of Chinese citizens or citizens of post-Soviet Central Asia states being exploited in Lithuania. Investigation of cases is severly affected by lack of definition of labour exploitation in Lithuanian law or policy - including for labour inspection. According to the 2012 TIP Report, no labour trafficking investigations took place yet in Lithuania.

The representative from Lithuanian Labour Exchange described the doubtful procedure of obtaining work permits in Lithuania - in practice work permit for a worker is received by the end employer, not the worker him/herself or the employement agency. It means that often it is only the end employer who is in physical touch with the worker and that possibilities for reaching workers with information about dangers of exploitation and how to seek help are very limited.

Each year around 3000 foreigners receive work permits in Lithuania though there are many more applications.

Labour trafficking is a growing problem in Europe. Recent Eurostat data show that the number of identified and presumed victims increased by 18 % between 2008 and 2010.

Trafficking for labour exploitation in Europe needs to be better addressed. While actors in the field have only discovered a tip of an iceberg, any solution to the problem will require understanding of new trends, developing new responses and partnerships.

For that reason trade unions, NGOs and faith based organizations launched a partnership to contribute to anti-trafficking response in Europe. Through the new project ITUC, together with Anti-Slavery International and Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe as international partners, will improve responses to labour trafficking. The three organzations, as well as national partners in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania and Spain will in particular focus on exploring new trends in trafficking – such as gender dimension of labour trafficking, more and more severe exploitation of increasingly large groups of exploited migrant workers in mainstream economic activities and new labour trafficking recruitment methods including the use of Internet and ICTs.

The FINE TUNE project is supported by the ISEC/EU DG Home grant and it forms a part of the ITUC global action for protection of rights of trafficked workers and strenghtening labour standards for decent work.