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“We have met people who earn 19 kroner ($3.17) an hour. That’s slavery,” police superintendent Alf-Magne Fredriksen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv.
In the last two years, the Norwegian labour inspectorate has examined working conditions at 100 car washes as part of its Operation Raccoon.
What the inspectorate has found is that many of the staff sleep at the car washes and earn way below the cleaning sector’s minimum hourly rate of 161 kroner.
“The minimum requirements have not been met in a single case,” said senior inspector Knut Morten Alvestad.
Alvestad said car owners needed to consider that exploitation was the most likely scenario if three or four people approached them at the same time wanting to clean their vehicle.
“The customers are well-off people who get their cars washed for 150 kroner. What are we thinking? We have a societal problem here.”
Before making their way to northern Europe, the cleaners first make their way to Spain or Italy with the help of people smugglers, said Alvestad.
Handlers in these countries then put them onto flights to Norway with low-cost carrier Ryanair, often luring them with the promise of decent jobs.
But once in Norway the migrants, who usually have no form of identification and have debts to pay off to their smugglers, are left with little option but to take the slave wages arranged for them.
“Previously I have used the term ‘modern slavery’ to describe what we have seen in the construction industry. Now we are seeing modern slavery in the car-care sector,” said Alvestad.
The inspectorate said it often found receipts indicating that most of the cleaners’ meagre income was sent back to their families in their home countries.