The department had conducted an undercover investigation in Mallorca which found that workers are often paid low wages, charged extortionate rents and even have their passports seized by employers. Others were in danger of sexual harassment and assault.
The investigation also found that 20 of the 25 Brits currently in prison in Mallorca had formerly worked as PRs. Some touts, it was discovered, resorted to selling drugs as a result of their mounting debts, lack of proper contracts and expensive accommodation. The Foreign Office referred to the working conditions some seasonal workers are subjected to as “modern day slavery”.
In response to the investigation, Border Force and slavery charity Unseen launched a campaign to warn young Brits of the potential risks of working abroad. Unseen employees went to airports to ensure people travelling out to work were aware of their confidential helpline and the support available should they be recruited by exploitative employers.
To find out how best to approach working summer seasons in Spain, The Local spoke to both former PRs and the British Embassy for more of an insight.
Tourists in the busy Punta Ballena area of Magaluf where Brits find jobs as touts. Photo: AFP
Blogger Kate Brown worked summer seasons in Magaluf during her university breaks. For their first stint on the island, Brown and her friends booked one way flights to Mallorca and quickly found jobs by speaking to the PRs outside bars. “From what I can remember I had a 'trial' shift PRing for a bar in BCM square set up for the next night.”
Brown’s first job involved working 9pm-2am six nights a week, but she enjoyed the relaxed and social nature of the work, which she found to be fairly structured. “You did work hard when you worked – it was pretty non stop – but you never really had to stay past those hours.” At the time, PR work was banned by the local authority, but employers and staff found ways around the law. “When the police went past, we would hide or pretend we were doing other work. I think they might have known people were PRing but couldn't really do much if they didn't catch you red handed.”
Despite the technical illegality of the work, Brown wasn’t ill-treated and was surprised by the Foreign Office findings. “It was fun work, the hours were OK – sometimes they dragged a bit but all in all it was more like you were just having fun with friends and getting paid to drink.” As for drug dealing, Brown says it happened on quite a low scale and she rarely even witnessed people taking drugs during her time as a PR.
Brown’s overall experience of working in Magaluf was positive, but she does warn of the common traps young workers fall into during their first seasons. “I've heard of some bars making people do trial shifts for free for a week and then telling them they don't have the job, so basically making them work for free with no intention of keeping them on…”
Accommodation can also be a concern – Brown encountered issues with flatmates suddenly moving out and leaving her with no one to split the rent with. “Be wary of signing a proper contract and don’t just trust people you might think you know but you've only just met.”
But not everyone working in Spanish resorts is as lucky as Brown was. In YouTuber Natasha Carlyle’s video ‘So you want to work in Ibiza? My advice on working a season abroad’ Carlyle speaks about the dangers of working as a PR on the island, which she has done three times. She urges young Brits to avoid the kind of recruitment companies she went through for her first season, which offer to find workers accommodation and jobs for a fee.
The work the company set up for Carlyle involved selling tickets around hotels and beaches, which can be legally dubious and “can get you into a lot of trouble.” Carlyle was also left without accommodation after a month, despite the company’s claims that leases could be extended during the season. In addition, Carlyle was under the impression that she would be able to receive support from the company for the duration of her time on the island, but this also turned out to be false.
Apart from avoiding exploitative companies which exaggerate what they’re able to provide, Carlyle recommends that would-be workers organise proper documentation before they arrive, budget well and check official workers’ pages on social media for accommodation before signing up to potential scams.
British Consul General Lloyd Milen, meanwhile, says that he hopes the Border Force operation will “ensure young holiday makers are aware of the risks and know what to do if they have problems” and that as a result “we will see fewer PR workers become consular cases this summer.”
The government's official press release advises that before accepting a PR role, workers should insist on a contract setting out terms and conditions, keep hold of their passport and ask to see accommodation before accepting it as part of a job package.
British nationals having difficulties can contact the Consulate on 0034 933 666 200 or [email protected]. They can also contact Unseen on 08000 121 700.