A government review has found that seasonal workers who had come to the U.K. to harvest fruit and vegetables on a post-Brexit pilot scheme faced “unacceptable” welfare conditions.
Some migrant workers on the scheme complained of a lack of health and safety equipment, racist and discriminatory treatment, and unsuitable accommodation, with no running water, bathroom or kitchen.
Accommodation “neither safe, comfortable, hygienic nor warm”
The pilot was launched in 2019 in response to a harvesting labor shortage caused by Brexit. The scheme brought 2,481 workers to the U.K., mostly to pick soft fruits on farms in England and Scotland.
However, a review, published on December 24, raises concerns for the welfare of those workers. The Guardian reports:
A UK government survey of workers found that workers had not been given employment contracts in their native language; had not been provided health and safety equipment, as they had been promised and were legally required to do; and that they had been subjected to unfair treatment by farm managers, including racism, discrimination and mistreatment, allegedly on the grounds of workers’ nationality.
Recruitment presentations to potential applicants for the pilot scheme were sometimes found not to have accurately reflected the accommodation, which was mostly on the farms. In the survey, 15% of respondents said their accommodation was neither safe, comfortable, hygienic nor warm, and 10% said their accommodation had no bathroom, no running water and no kitchen.
The Scottish government funded a review last year which reported similar findings, including unsafe and degrading living conditions and insufficient health and safety measures.
Continued violations of labor rights despite commitments
Migrant worker protection has long been an issue in the U.K. farming and fishing industry. Indeed, the drowning of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in 2004 at northwest England’s Morecambe Bay was the tragedy that prompted the establishment of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, now known as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
The GLAA was created to ensure decent worker welfare standards, including a minimum wage, suitable accommodation and transport, and safe working conditions.
Nevertheless, this review suggests that conditions for migrants working in the U.K. agricultural sector remain concerning, despite reiterated commitments to combat exploitation in recent years.
Scheme to continue with updated requirements and guidance
The review, which was carried out by the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated that the “alleged welfare issues identified are unacceptable”.
In response, the Home Office has revised the requirements for scheme operators Concordia and Pro-Force, and updated the guidance for sponsors of seasonal workers.
The pilot scheme has been extended to 2024, with up to 30,000 visas made available for harvesting work in 2022. Two additional operators have been contracted to recruit migrant workers.