The Irish Car Wash Association (ICWA) has welcomed recent raids by police in the Irish Republic investigating claims of slave labour at car washes.

The recently formed industry body represents petrol retailers operating car washes in Ireland and is an offshoot of the IPRA (Irish Petrol Retailers Association).

Spokesperson David Blevings said: “The membership is very concerned at the substantial growth in the non-forecourt operated car washes that have ‘sprung up’ on vacant lots, disused forecourts and car parks across the country. While the industry has no problem in welcoming competition, many of these washes operate without licence; have no valid planning, operate on a domestic supply and have no suitable plan for disposal of effluent which clearly affects the environment.”

He said many of these washes were using casual labour and ICWA was concerned that staff working in this type of business could be being exploited. ICWA has raised the issue of unauthorised car washes with the government and the tax and water authorities, with a view to having a coordinated approach to the problem, but has reported with little success.

Blevings pointed out that to set up a car wash business attached to a service station ICWA members require planning permission to include interceptors and recycling tanks. Many require a trade effluent discharge licence and are required to take water samples to monitor water quality. They are also required to provide certificates for disposal of silt and contaminated water and pay water rates. With these costs and overheads, he said, members cannot compete with unauthorised washes who do not comply with many of the regulations and do not pay minimum wage rates.

ICWA has suggested a licensing scheme for car washes, similar to the auto fuel licence for petrol stations, which could be managed by Revenue, the Irish tax authority. “Without a licence a site would not be able to trade, reducing the opportunities for running a cash business which may provide cover for other activities such as money laundering and forced labour,” added Blevings.