Brexit and the pandemic have left the United Kingdom with severe labor shortages. To cover the needs of the agriculture sector, the government is offering short-term visas to people from over 50 countries.
However, testimonies from migrant workers hired through this scheme reveal concerning signs of exploitation, including the charging of exorbitant recruitment fees, unfit accommodation and abuse. The Guardian warns of parallels between the conditions for migrant workers in the U.K. and in the Gulf, a region notorious for the exploitation of its foreign workforce.
Unethical recruitment of U.K. farmworkers
The exploitation of migrant workers on U.K. farms often begins before they even leave their home country. Workers are routinely charged fees by recruitment agents, meaning that many are in debt from the moment they arrive in the U.K. One Nepali worker reported paying fees and costs that amounted to almost one-third of her earnings from six months on a British farm.
This debt is exacerbated by the fact that the U.K. visa scheme requires workers to cover costs of their flights and visas. This condition violates International Labour Organization guidelines, which state that employers should cover all costs related to recruitment.
In The Guardian, Pete Pattisson argues that when migrant workers cover the costs of their recruitment, they are essentially subsidizing the costs of supermarket products and healthcare.
Migrant workers are also allegedly being duped into signing contracts they don’t fully understand. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of their employer and recruiter.
Mistreatment during the employment phase
For many migrant workers, the exploitative treatment they face is not limited to the recruitment phase. Indeed, a Ukrainian farmworker told The Guardian that when workers protested conditions, they were punished with a week-long suspension.
Late last year, a government review of a pilot of this visa scheme was released, revealing that employers subjected workers to “unacceptable” conditions. Some migrant workers on the scheme had complained of a lack of health and safety equipment, racist and discriminatory treatment, and unsuitable accommodation, with no running water, bathroom or kitchen.
Call on the U.K. to create migration policies which prioritize human rights
In post-Brexit Britain, what lies ahead for migrant workers? The Guardian warns conditions may get worse:
The recruitment of foreign workers can benefit both the workers and the UK, but only if the government puts proper safeguards and funding in place. So far, it has done neither. Meanwhile, if you want a foretaste of labour conditions for migrant workers in the UK in the coming years, take a look at Doha and Dubai.
The U.K. must take urgent action to ensure that its migration policies are not creating vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation among migrant workers. Call for action today.