“It doesn’t matter how you look at it, every day I am here I feel like a slave.”
A group of migrant workers from Barbados is speaking out about the abuses they faced on British strawberry farms. They report being forced to work long hours for less pay than they were promised and charged for poor and dirty accomodation.
They came to the UK in June as part of the government-backed UK Farm Labour Programme, but now want to return home after facing horrendous working conditions. One farmworker, Romario Bryan, even said of former managers and supervisors: “the only thing these people are missing is the whips and chains.”
The Voice reports:
The Voice has seen a payslip confirming some workers were paid just £39.33 after working two days at the end of June. According to the document, a caravan accommodation charge of £29.72 was deducted, which left workers with just £5.92.
Mr Bryan revealed while working at the farms he struggled to live on the wages he was paid and survived some weeks on just eggs and water.
A farm document showed that after tax and other deductions a worker on average would be paid £295.45 for a 48 hour week from which workers would need to find funds for food, cooking, and sleeping in shared rooms. There were also other smaller deductions.
In addition, a number of workers from Barbados, say they were coerced into coming to the UK on an open ticket, which has left them stranded and unable to afford to buy a ticket to return to their native country.
Cristopher Griffith from Concordia UK Ltd, the agency for the strawberry farms, released a statement dismissing claims of mistreatment saying, “The claims of slavery are false, I have over 100 workers across UK farms and have not had any complaints.”
The farmworkers criticized the statement, and Mr. Bryan added that his reports of racist abuse to Concordia and CJNM Consulting Associates Ltd, the representative from Barbados who recruited him for the program, went ignored.
Mr. Bryan says he reported an incident when he was spat at by an Eastern European worker while picking strawberries. Other workers from Barbados say Eastern European supervisors ordered them to pick strawberries from plants with the fewest fruit, resulting in them earning less than European pickers because their wages were often calculated by the volume of strawberries picked.
Concordia, a registered UK Charity, made profits of £1.6 million in its last accounts filed at Companies House. The Voice noted that it will be “writing to the Charity Commission and asking it look into whether seasonal farm worker recruitment, pay, terms and conditions meet the high ethical standards Concordia maintains that it achieves.”