Latin American women working in the cleaning sector are being denied their working rights- and Covid-19 is making it worse

Up-to-date information on your workers’ rights, access to benefits and whom to call if you experience exploitation at work.

Some employers can take advantage of any limitations you might have in English language

They may try to cut corners if they feel you don’t understand your rights, or do not have legal status in the UK. You can get free, reliable and confidential help and support in Spanish and Portuguese if you have:

If you have experienced any of these, make a note of what happened, being sure to include details of:

  • What the incident was
  • When it happened
  • Where it happened
  • Who was involved
  • Witnesses to the incident

This information will be important to have should you decide to seek help. Download a template form here. 

Your rights in the UK

Your rights may vary depending on your employment status. In the UK, even if you are an undocumented worker, you have the right to be free from exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery.

Your rights include:

The UK has a National Minimum Wage (NMW) and you should not be paid below this. As of 1 April 2020, you are entitled to £8.72 per hour if you are over 25 years old, £8.20 per hour if you are between 21 and 24 years old, and £6.45 per hour if you are aged 18-20. If you work overtime your employer must pay you for the additional time you have worked, and your average pay for the total of hours you have worked must not fall below the NMW. 

If you have a pre-existing condition or are feeling ill, you should not be made to work or denied sick pay.  

Those who earn more than £118 per week will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). You can also claim SSP if you are self-isolating because a member of your household has the virus. If you are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms you can obtain an isolation note here.  

If you miss four or more consecutive days off work due to sickness, your employer might ask you to provide proof of illness. You can self-certify your illness and will find examples of the questions you may be asked on the self-certification form here. 

If you are on a zero-hours contract and can demonstrate that you earn a minimum of £118 a week from your employer, you are also entitled to SSP. 

If you earn less than £118 a week, or are unable to provide a medical note, you may be able to claim Universal Credit.  

Important: There is no cost to those looking for diagnosis or treatment of Covid-19. This applies to all persons, regardless of their immigration status. There is no need to check migratory status for foreign people who are only being tested or under treatment for Covid-19

For any other health issues, you can register with a General Practice (GP), even if you are an undocumented worker. NHS Accident and Emergency services (A&E) will provide assistance for urgent health issues, and they will not charge there and then, but you may incur a debt if admitted for further care. 

If you have any healthcare needs which are not related to Covid-19 or are having problems receiving healthcare, you can contact  ‘Doctors of the World’.

Any amount deducted from your salary should be clearly stated on your payslip. It is common to have deductions for tax and National Insurance. Other deductions – for example for transport, food, or housing – may not be legal. 

Your employer may suggest you can receive less than the NMW due to money you owe them or things they are offering you such as accommodation or food. If your employer is taking money from your wages this should be detailed in a contract in a language that you understand. You have the right to question this and can get advice here. 

If you have worked for your employer for longer than a month but less than two years you should not be dismissed or asked not to go to work without a weeks notice. If your employer tells you not to come to work during your notice period they still have to pay you for it. Equally, if you have been employed with the same company for more than two years, you cannot be dismissed without a reason. 

You should not be dismissed for reporting any rights issues, such as not receiving a contract, asking for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), not receiving the minimum wage, or discrimination.

Your hours should not be reduced without your consent and any changes to your contract must be agreed upon by you. If you are on a zero-hours contract this may not apply to you, but you can seek advice here. 

It is illegal and you should seek support if discriminated against, abused or harassed because of your country of origin, language barrier, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, maternity leave, or race. 


Before starting any job, you must receive a written contract outlining the terms of your employment. This includes a clear description of what you will be doing, where and when you will be working, how much you will be paid, when you will be paid and the breaks and holiday you can take.


Accessing Benefits and Furloughing

You may be entitled to Universal Credit if you are on low income or out of work.  

Alternatively, if you are officially registered as self-employed, you may be eligible to receive Self-Employed Income Support, which covers a maximum of 80% of your average monthly earnings over the past three years, paid in one instalment covering 3 months’ worth of earnings, and capped at £7,500. To receive Self-Employed Income Support, you must comply with the following: 

  • Be an independent worker/self-employed for a company that signed up for the scheme
  • Have lost income due to Covid-19
  • Have filed a 2018-19 tax return as an independent worker/self-employed
  • Have had commercial activity in 2019-2020 and the intention to continue working in the financial year 2020-2021
  • To have a yearly income lower than £50,000 with more than half of that sum coming from self-employed activities

Your employer might decide to ‘furlough’ you but they must inform you of that decision. If this happens, you are still employed by your company, but you will get paid a percentage of your wage for any of your usual hours that you are asked not to work.  

You can be part of this scheme if you have signed a working contract and been on the payroll since 19th March 2020, or if you are unable to work due to child-care or adult-care giving responsibilities. The furlough scheme will close to new workers from 10th June 2020, so your employer will need to have furloughed you before then for you to be eligible. 

During furlough, the UK Government will pay 80% of your salary from 1st March 2020 onwards. They will pay up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.  

From 1st July 2020 you will be able to go back to work part time and your employer will need to pay your normal wage for the time you are working, with the furlough pay covering 80% of your wages for the time you are not working.

Who to contact

If you suspect that you or someone you know have been mistreated or exploited at your work, please contact these organisations for free confidential help and advice:

LAWRS – The Latin American Women’s Rights Service offers free advice and support in Spanish and Portuguese to Latin American women in the UK on issues such as working rights and domestic violence.

Opening hours: Monday-Friday: 10am-6pm. They are closed between 1pm and 2pm.


General Inquiries: 020 7336 0888 or 0844 264 0682

Housing, Welfare Benefits and Debts: 0784 950 7463 (Mon-Fri 10am-12pm)

Employment Rights (initial advice): 0790 214 5832 (Mon-Fri 10am-12pm)

Psychotherapy Service: 0792 630 9514 (Mon-Fri 10am-1pm)

Domestic Violence/Abuse: 0771 928 1714 (Mon-Thurs 10am-1pm) or 0759 597 0590 (Mon-Fri 10am-1pm)

Text or Whatsapp: 07708133886

Contact emails:  

General Inquiries:  [email protected]

Psychotherapy service: [email protected]

Domestic violence or abuse: [email protected]

Website: www.lawrs.org.uk

More ways to get support

Trade unions exist to protect workers, especially during hard times. If you are a member of a trade union, we recommend you get in contact with them for help and advice. If you are not a member of a trade union, United Voices of the World (UVW) is providing support in your language. Once a member, they can offer you advice immediately and provide legal support.

United Voices of the World (UVW) – UVW is a trade union which supports migrants in low-wage industries, including cleaning.

Telephone: 0207 358 7268

Text or WhatsApp: 07775 697 605 or 07884 553 443

Contact email: [email protected]

Website: www.uvwunion.org.uk

Independent Workers Union of GB (IWGB) – IWGB offer support to workers looking for legal advice or help accessing benefits.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m

Telephone: 07471 328822

General enquiries: [email protected] 

Benefits: [email protected]

Benefits: https://airtable.com/shrG0yw9DeBqQy5Q0

Contact form: https://iwgb.typeform.com/to/aORWuU

Website: https://iwgb.org.uk/page/covid-support-and-advice


If you have any healthcare needs which are not related to Covid-19 or are having problems receiving healthcare, you can contact ‘Doctors of the World’ on 0808 1647 686. They provide free and confidential help between 10-12pm, Monday to Friday, or you can email [email protected]

No matter what your immigration status is or where you live in the UK you can ask to speak to someone in your language.

If you or anyone you know are in immediate danger, please call the police on 999.

You can find more information about Covid-19 and the NHS guidance here.