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Non-compliance in car washes a threat, finds Home Office-backed report



The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) has called on enforcement agencies to accelerate and co-ordinate their efforts to tackle problems including wage theft, exploitation and malpractice in the hand car wash sector.


The plea comes as part of a new report resulting from a two year study in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University (NTU), into employment, business and environmental practices in the sector.

Backed by the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Prevention Fund and working alongside enforcement agencies including the police, local councils and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the RCWS visited car wash sites in five regions across England to assess levels of non-compliance. Activities took place to educate site operators, workers and local communities on the obligations of car washes regarding employee pay and contracts, as well as business, premises and environment care.


There are approximately 5,000 hand car washes in the United Kingdom. The absence of national or local licensing in this sector and a lack of co-ordinated resources to tackle unlawful practice means that more egregious behaviour such as slavery and organised crime can go unchecked.

Teresa Sayers, RCWS Managing Director, said: “The RCWS was established to improve standards in the hand car wash sector. Having visited more than 150 hand car washes over the past two years, it’s clear the sites are currently free to act with impunity and this poses a real threat. What’s needed now is a structured, co-ordinated multiagency approach to enforcement. Only then can the embedded culture of this sector be challenged and standards raised.”


Darryl Dixon from the GLAA, said: “The economic downturn means that more workers are now vulnerable to labour exploitation. This is likely to take place in unregulated workplaces such as car washes. Prevention, education and enforcement go hand in hand to provide a level playing field for legitimate businesses and reduce the risk of worker exploitation.”


Ian Clark, professor of work and employment at NTU, said: “The project highlighted valuable multi-agency working approaches but also revealed a lack of shared strategic objectives and agreed data sharing processes. The report set out clear recommendations to address this.”


Recommendations for raising standards include:


Joined-up approach from relevant agencies

A shared and agreed approach to eradicate non-compliant activity and unlawful actions needs to be developed and implemented by all agencies and organisations working within the system. While valuable multi-agency working approaches exist, a lack of shared strategic objectives and agreed data sharing processes hinders further joined up and targeted work in the sector.


Education – operators, employees and the public

It is important that businesses, workers and the public understand their role in compliance. Operators must know their obligations and there needs to be engagement with hand car wash workers across the UK to raise awareness of their employment and pension rights. Members of the public taking their cars to these sites should be able to recognise the signs of non-compliance and know how to report concerns.


Licensing – government / local authorities

The ODLME (Office of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement) should continue to explore and promote the use of local or regional licensing for this sector with government helping to produce a sector that is fair for all businesses and provides safe environments for consumers and workers. Any licensing regime should be based on the RCWS Code and co-badged with the RCWS.


RCWS Code of Practice:

  • Consent to Trade and Trading Standards

  • Financial Transparency and Corporate Governance

  • Providing Safe and Hygienic Working Conditions

  • Protecting the Environment

  • Compliant and Ethical Employment Practices and prevention of worker exploitation.


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