A hand car wash in Northern Ireland has been closed down temporarily after a multi-agency operation.

Detectives from Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) along with colleagues from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team and partners in HMRC and the Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI) were involved in the action at the hand car wash in the Portadown area on Wednesday 18 December.

Following the operation, which aimed to identify potential victims of human trafficking and raise awareness with the public about the signs that they should be looking out for, the car wash was closed by the HSENI until necessary work undertaken.

Detective inspector Mark Bell from PSNI’s MSHTU said: “We regularly conduct these operations as a result of information received from the public, raising concerns about potential human trafficking at the car wash. When we receive information of this nature, we take it extremely seriously and we will continue to carry out proactive operations, as they give us the opportunity to assess if any workers are potential victims of trafficking. We also conduct follow up visits at their homes to check on them again and look at their living conditions, with their consent.

“While we have spoken to over 200 workers, to date only six potential victims of labour exploitation have been recovered from hand car washes. When we speak to the workers, away from their managers or the owners, the vast majority state that they are not working under duress and there is no evidence of them being controlled or held against their will. Many indicate that they are content with their pay and conditions as they feel it is still more than they would otherwise have earned at home.

“There is no doubt that many of these hand car washes are being run as legitimate businesses, working ethically and responsibly and doing their best to comply with all the regulations. However in some of these hand car washes, workers have told us they are being paid between £10 and £60 per day for carrying out this work in the cold.

“Some of the hand car washes are also not complying with health and safety legislation and fail to provide appropriate protective clothing for staff working in cold and wet conditions. In these cases, it is clear that the owners are taking advantage of the workers’ situation and their lack of knowledge of the law and their entitlements.

“By adopting a multi-agency approach to the issue, a wide range of powers can be utilised by all of the relevant agencies to best protect the worker and enforce any employment or safety legislation that is breached.

“Whilst it is important to note that the presence of one or two of these signs and indicators in isolation does not necessarily mean that the people involved are victims of trafficking or being forced to work against their will, it is best to let the appropriate authorities make that decision so I continue to encourage the public to report any concerns to PSNI on 101.”