UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency

UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency

UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency – Comments by Andy Hall

See updated news below from The Kathmandu Post on the confusion stemming from the UK GLAA’s recent enforcement decision regarding forced labour, slavery and trafficking in unethical recruitment of butchers from Nepal to the UK.

Original Article Available: Kathmandu Post – posted January 5th 2023

Those allegedly Nepali nationals subject to the UK court order claim they don’t have a GLAA license in the first place to be suspended, have never sent workers to the UK and are not UK citizens thereby outside of the enforcement remit of GLAA.

Meanwhile, Umakanta Acharya, DG of Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), has reportedly said the new Nepali guidelines for sending seasonal workers from Nepal to the UK under a zero cost scheme (issued recently) might not be implementable in case of the UK. The guidelines say a local level authority in a foreign country with a labour demand needs to send a demand letter to the local level authority in Nepal with which it has established a sister city relationship. However, that is not how the recruitment happens for the UK jobs. Hence it looks like the new guidelines were brought to facilitate sending workers to South Korea only.

Concerns sending workers to the UK from Nepal

As a result, this area of Nepal UK recruitment probably still remains unregulated in Nepal as concerns sending workers to the UK labour market in increasing numbers. The forced labour related risks for the workers particularly from debt bondage and unethical recruitment remain severe whilst the rule of law and established ethical recruitment channels remain weak or non existent.

Lots of confusion remains at this time on this concerning issue, with neither the Nepali or UK authorities clarifying the situation and/or formal channels, mechanisms and costs on migration between Nepal and the UK. Prospective Nepali workers remain in a state of confusion at increasing risk of being cheated by brokers, subagents, unlicensed manpower agents and the plethora of fake online materials.

Regarding fake materials for instance, see the post from the Nepal Embassy in the UK today. Urgent notice on the non-issuance of notice on the UK Seasonal Visa Posted on 05/01/2023 available here.

The need for genuine, factual and easy guidelines for aspiring Neplai workers

It is in my opinion of the most urgent imperative that both the UK and Nepali governments as related departments GLAA/DOFE/Home Office and concerned Embassies, as well as ALP and the UK seasonal worker scheme (SWS) operators publish genuine, factual and easy to understand materials and guidance for aspiring Nepali workers seeking to migrate formally to the UK for seasonal work at this specific time.

There are just so many fake websites, social media posts and a very active subagent, broker and unlicensed agent network presence in this area at this time spreading false information on Nepali migration to UK under the SWS that it needs to be countered with official information urgently by official sources.

But the first issue is for the ALP and SWS operators as well as the UK government to actually confirm whether there are even recruitment opportunities for the SWS from Nepal in 2023 or not. This is still not clear and a check of all websites of operators doesn’t make this clear now. If there are recruitment opportunities for Nepalis, it needs to be clear through what channels should workers apply and what the formal costs and processes need to be outlined. Will the Nepal government implement its recent seasonal worker directive? What are the formal channels?

Even those I engage don’t know the basic issues like this so it’s understandable how can generally less literate prospective (and often desperate) migrant workers cannot find the right information and rather fall victim to irregular brokers and agents/subagents and inaccurate online info. Whatever the SWS operator recruitment methods, this information dissemination is crucial

Given the absolute unregulated mess and chaos/legacy of the 2021/2022 seasonal worker seasons and exploitative and unregulated migration processes from Nepal to UK, I consider it the urgent duty of both governments to work together to counter false information spreading rapidly with utmost urgency at this time.

UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency

By: Pawan Pandey – 5th January 2023

A UK court has handed a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order to two directors of a Nepali recruitment agency on suspicions of exploiting workers by charging exorbitant recruitment fees.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) said in a statement on Tuesday that it has suspended Adept and Agile’s licence, prohibiting it to supply workers to the UK’s regulated sectors of agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, and any associated processing and packaging.

The authority also licences gangmasters, companies that supply labour, in these sectors.

The GLAA is the foremost investigative agency for labour exploitation and modern slavery in the UK. Breaching a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

“Doncaster Magistrates’ Court approved the application from the GLAA for an interim Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order against Resham Gurung and Pravin Rimal at a hearing on December 21,” read the statement. “STROs are civil orders issued to restrict the activities of individuals who pose a serious risk of otherwise committing slavery or trafficking offences.”

Gurung and Rimal are listed as chairmen of Adept and Agile, a company based in Nepal.

“The order is in place for 18 months,” according to the statement. “Gurung, of Foxley Close, Blackwater, Surrey, and Rimal of Ring Road, Gwarko, Kathmandu are prevented under the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order from arranging anyone’s travel into or out of England, other than their own children.”

Gurung and Rimal denied the accusation.

“The decision does not seem authentic,” Gurung told the Post. “We are neither UK citizens nor have a licence to send workers there.”

Gurung claimed that they have never sent a single Nepali citizen to work in the UK. “We have nothing to say about the decision,” he said.

According to the GLAA, its officers spoke to 85 workers on two visits to a meat processing factory in South Yorkshire in October 2022.

“Workers told the GLAA that they had paid job-finding fees of up to 13,000 pounds (around Rs2 million) to Adept and Agile while they were still in Nepal,” said the statement. “Some had taken out loans to pay the fee, while others said that they had put up their homes or businesses as security for the loan.”

“Some of the workers added that they had been told not to speak about the payments, otherwise they could lose their jobs and be sent back to Nepal.”

The UK has emerged as one of the major destinations among Nepalis for skilled as well as seasonal work in recent years.

Usually, one can work as a butcher in the UK through a skilled workers visa. But in times of emergency need, the UK government has allowed the butchers to go to the UK as seasonal workerstoo.

In the skilled visa scheme, aspiring individuals need to have knowledge of English and a certificate of sponsorship from an employer.

Though the fees for finding work are explicitly banned under the GLAA licensing standards, the candidates are required to pay for the application and health surcharge, besides the travel cost.

While the standard application fee ranges from 625 to 1,423 pounds (around Rs99,000 to Rs 226,000), healthcare is usually 624 pounds per year.

The skilled work visa can last up to five years and can be extended further.

After five years, the workers may also be able to apply for permanent settlement in the UK.

The candidates also must have at least 1,270 pounds ( around Rs202,000 ) in their bank account to show that they can support themselves in the UK, if the employer cannot cover it.

Similarly, seasonal work in the horticulture sector in the UK consists of picking fruits, vegetables and flowers for six months.

According to government data, from 2019 to the first quarter of 2022, 1,124 Nepalis received UK visas for temporary work, putting Nepal in the second spot after India as the largest receiver of UK visas among South Asian countries in recent years.

Workers have to pay 259 pounds (around Rs41,000) as an application fee besides spending for their visa and a two-way ticket. They require a certificate of sponsorship, which is a reference number that holds information about the job and personal details.

There have been multiple reports of workers paying exorbitant recruitment fees to secure work and workers not being provided employment for the entire six-month period.

In November last year, the Post interviewed several Nepali seasonal workers who said they had to pay Rs500,000 to Rs900,000 to a third-party agent for securing fruit picking jobs in the UK.

The Guardian investigation last year found that migrant fruit pickers were charged thousands in illegal fees to work in UK farms.

A Nepali migrant worker told the British daily that she had to pay more than 3,000 pounds (around Rs477,000) to recruitment agents.

“Migrant workers being made to pay a huge amount in illegal recruitment fees is a very big issue in almost every sector in the UK,” said Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant workers’ rights specialist working in South and Southeast Asia.

“While the UK government does not have proper laws for ethical recruitment as a worker needs to pay a huge amount for application and healthcare besides the travel costs, the recruitment process monitoring mechanism in Nepal is very poor.”

Umakanta Acharya, director general of the Department of Foreign Employment, the organisation responsible for monitoring foreign employment, said there is a legal mechanism to investigate a recruiting agency and punish it accordingly, if found guilty. “But the victims first need to file a complaint at the department.”

According to Hall, a government-to-government mechanism to send the workers would be more effective to carry out ethical recruitment as well as protecting workers from injustices while working abroad.

The Nepal government recently approved the Seasonal Workers Management Working Guideline 2022, permitting the local level to select suitable candidates and send them to work temporarily in foreign countries.

According to the new guidelines, individuals will be sent for foreign employment under a ‘zero cost’ scheme through a government initiative. However, labour migration researchers have doubted its effective implementation, pointing out the need for a robust regulatory mechanism to oversee the entire process.

See also: 30th March 2023: UK retailers urged to compensate Nepalese and Indonesian ex-farm workers.

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