BBC News 16th Feb 2023 – Working in the UK: Hundreds of Indonesian Citizens Escape, More Than 1,200 Workers from Indonesia Threatened to Cancel
Hundreds of Indonesian citizens escape while more than 1,200 are in danger of canceling. PT Al Zubara Manpower Indonesia which handles the placement of seasonal workers to the UK said it is looking for another seasonal worker operator after the partner’s license, PT AG Recruitment, was revoked by the British government. Therefore, more than 1,200 workers are in danger of canceling their departure this year.
Original Article: The BBC by Rohmatin Bonasir – 16 February 2023.
This assurance was conveyed by the Director of PT Al Zubara after waiting for news from PT AG Recruitment regarding the departure of the second year, considering that the harvest season will soon arrive.
“PT Al Zubara is looking for a new partner in the UK for this year’s departure,” Yulia Guyeni told BBC News Indonesia on Tuesday night (14/02).
It is said that PT Al Zubara has received a notification from AG Recruitment that the company can no longer be a sponsor this year based on the seasonal worker scheme. The reason mentioned is “unexpected circumstances.”
This has a direct impact on around 1,200 Indonesian Migrant Workers (PMI) who have completed their first year contract in the 2022 harvest season and were originally re-placed in waves this year starting in April.
“We ask friends to be aware, wait and pray for a solution,” Yulia Guyeni asked the workers who should have departed this year.
The first placement was carried out in 2022 by sending around 1,400 PMI, but some ran away and did not return to Indonesia even though they were under contract.
Based on the latest data, according to Yulia Guyeni, about 200 Indonesian workers escaped from plantations or failed to go home, increasing from the number we have reported in the writings of former Indonesian citizens who have become illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK.
BBC News Indonesia has contacted AG Recruitment to ask whether the revocation of permits relates to workers who do not return home when the visa expires.
Among PMIs threatened with Cancel departing again is Rifai – not his real name. A former fruit picker is honing his English skills in English Village, Pare, Kediri, East Java. He studied for three months in the village which has many English language education institutions.
Even though he had just returned from England, his place was trying to make a living in the agricultural sector. But he couldn’t work for six full months according to the validity period of the seasonal worker’s visa.
“My personal experience is that my visa has been charred two months before leaving. The visa has been dropped but the officer did not quickly take care of the ID requirements. So it was too late to leave,” explained Rifai.
Arriving at the plantation in England in September 2022, he was assigned the task of picking strawberries and raspberries. The last fruit stem is thorny and the fruit is prone to bruises. Working in the open when entering winter with strong winds, Rifai feels unprepared.
“I got a plantation that was not good. When I was sick, instead of being taken to the hospital or given treatment, I was fired,” said Rifai.
However, he admitted that he was not deterred from wandering to England. Therefore, he is now actively studying his language and dreaming of being able to return to England until he heard the news that the AG Recruitment permit has been revoked.
There are only four British companies that have permits to bring in foreign workers in a seasonal worker visa scheme. With the removal of AG Recruitment from the list of operators of the seasonal worker scheme, now there are only three companies.
Some have stated that they do not take workers from Asia. Called the visa operator of seasonal workers, the company acts as a sponsor of workers in the UK and their dealers to plantations in need. To bring in foreign workers, they cooperate with the workers of the country of origin of workers.
As for the UK, seasonal worker visa operators are under the control of GLAA or the authorities dealing with workers and violations of labor rights.
“All seasonal worker visa operators are required to hold a license and are supervised by Gangmasters and Labor Abuse Authority (GLAA). GLAA can revoke or refuse to give permission if it cannot meet working conditions standards,” said the UK Ministry of Home Affairs in response to questions from BBC News Indonesia.
Now seasonal visa operators can recruit from dozens of countries. Besides Indonesia, there are also workers from Nepal, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
However, the recruitment from Nepal by AG Recruitment has already been stopped for the 2023 harvest season following the debt bondage of workers from the country. Some of them also decided to become illicit workers or seek asylum in England, as some Indonesian workers did.
The notification from AG Recruitment came when PT Al Zubara Manpower Indonesia admitted that it had made various repairs after the first delivery was colored by problems, such as delays in departure and workers running away from the plantation before the contract expired.
Director of PT Al Zubara Manpower Indonesia, Yulia Guyeni, said it happened because of the short time between notification of vacancies from the UK and delivery.
“Because of the short time we can’t be selective. So everyone comes, we just accept it. Those who wanted to go to Poland didn’t go, they couldn’t go to Australia, they couldn’t go to Zealand. Finally, they registered a UK visa,” said Yulia
The chain of brokering issues also made the company not have time to deploy an aju team to review the field situation. The consequences include, among other things, that the company cannot make mental and physical preparations for prospective workers.
“There I admit that there is no selectiveness. There should be an interview first, we first check the CV. For the second time, we prepare ourselves to be more selective. When I got there, it’s only been a week or two that I’ve said that the work is hard, it’s not appropriate to finally run away,” said Yulia in an interview with BBC News Indonesia.
They complained about the burden of debt to pay for departure. They also admitted that they were surprised to pay for transportation from the airport in the UK to the location of the workplace.
Workers originally applied for vacancies in Poland and other countries, according to Yulia Guyeni, but diverted interest to the UK as soon as there were vacancies. Many workers paid far beyond the ceiling set by PT Al Zubara, Rp45 million.
Reasonable, for example, Rp. 5 million – Rp10 million. After the component of pre-departure costs emerged, many people in the UK felt uncomfortable hearing the issue of debt bondage, including investors in the food sector and activists.
This occurred because PT Al Zubara did not recruit directly, but through sponsors or brokers, job training institutions or PMI placement companies. They are the ones who increase the cost of placement.
“Therefore, we take concrete steps in placement in 2023 the process of recruiting PMIs must be carried out directly without going through a third party, in order to minimize excess costs,” he explained to BBC News Indonesia, before the cancellation of placement by AG Recruitment this.
In the second stage, according to Yulia Guyeni, registration has been carried out online as an effort to break the chain of brokers.
“Because we are now going through the job market which is handled by the Ministry of Manpower. In the area there are each Disnaker-Disnaker, we can work together for the next season’s admission.”
Also read: Indonesian Citizens Former Fruit Pickers Become Illegal Immigrants and Asylum Seekers in the UK – ‘This is the Easiest Shortcut’ More than 200 Indonesian Migrant Workers in the UK Repatriated – ‘Pawned Houses, Debt Not Closed’ Indonesian Migrant Workers in England During ‘Lockdown’: ‘Tak Can work, the debt to eat swells’
The Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the fee for seasonal workers is only a visa of £259 or around Rp. 4.8 million and a round-trip ticket.
Regarding levies beyond the cost that occurs in the country of work of workers, the British government does not have the authority.
In practice, prospective workers must pay a lot of additional costs and penetrate the long bureaucracy to take care of recommendations from the regions, passports, insurance, debriefing costs from the Manpower Office and so on. Regulations in Indonesia require all of that.
The second placement will initially be limited even so, this job vacancy enthusiast in the UK is attracting the interest of many people. If in the first year PT Al Zubara sent 1,400 PMI, at least 3,800 people had registered this year before registration closed.
As part of the improvement – before the AG Recruitment permit was canceled – the Director of P2PMI Development at the Ministry of Manpower, Rendra Setiawan, said that the delivery this time was originally limited to those who had undergone the first placement. They are under contract for two years.
So far, the British government has only opened the agricultural sector for seasonal workers from abroad. Farmers have long been dependent on workers from abroad, mainly to care for, harvesting fruits and vegetables. The need for seasonal workers is high due to Brexit and the Ukrainian war. Before Britain left the European Union, many workers came from Eastern European countries. Likewise, before the Ukrainian war broke out, many citizens of the country filled vacancies in the agricultural sector.
Data from the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that the agricultural sector has attracted 476,000 workers, at least 55,000 of whom are seasonal workers. In 2023, the UK provides a quota of 45,000 visas for seasonal workers, an increase of 15,000 from the number provided the previous year.
In a statement to BBC News Indonesia, the British Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees immigration, said the quota could be increased by up to 10,000 if needed for this year’s harvest season.
The addition of quotas can be made on the condition that “depending on the efforts of sponsors and farmers to improve and meet workers’ welfare standards, including ensuring workers are guaranteed the minimum number of hours paid every week.”
Job opportunities on farms are shorter than agriculture because they are only valid from October to December. Training is given in each plantation, the workers practically do not require special skills.
According to those who have worked, even with limited English they can carry out their work. The UK is listed as a new destination country for PMI placement, an opportunity that is generally considered potential.
“We welcome the opportunity for employment in the horticultural sector in the UK, which has a positive impact on the scheme/process of the placement of PMI which has never been carried out in the sector to the UK. “This is an opportunity or job opportunity that can be utilized by Indonesian job seekers,” said Director of P2PMI Development at the Ministry of Manpower, Rendra Setiawan told BBC News Indonesia journalist Rohmatin Bonasir In March 2019.
It was originally 2,500, the scheme was expanded every year. When the wheels of government were still under the control of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the seasonal worker scheme was planned to take effect until the end of 2024.
An independent study on labor shortages in the food chain is targeted completed in the months ahead. The results of the research will be used as a foothold for the continuity of the seasonal worker scheme after 2024.
Until now the government led by PM Rishi Sunak has not issued a decision whether the scheme will be continued or not.
Guardian 10th Feb 2023: AG Recruitment, UK recruiter of debt-hit Indonesian and Nepali migrant workers, loses seasonal workers scheme license following forced labour related allegations, worker abscondments and asylum claims
A British recruitment agency that brought Indonesian farmworkers to the UK who had debts of thousands of pounds to foreign brokers has lost its licence as a seasonal worker sponsor.
More than 1,450 Indonesians were brought to Britain last year by AG Recruitment to pick berries and other fruits to supply British supermarkets.
The Guardian revealed that some owed as much as £5,000 to unlicensed foreign brokers when they arrived in Britain, despite only having work for a single season. AG denied any wrongdoing and said it had known nothing about Indonesian brokers charging money.
Douglas Amesz, its managing director, said he was “devastated” to receive notice from the Home Office of its licence being revoked on Wednesday and that the process had been “very unfair and unjust”.
AG sought workers in Indonesia at short notice last year when war broke out in Ukraine, where the company had previously done most of its recruitment.
Amesz said: “We’ve always had the absolute best intentions for everyone … I would never have been in Indonesia if it wasn’t for that stupid war. And a year on, my business has just gone down the toilet.”
More than 200 Indonesian fruit pickers brought to the UK by AG asked for diplomatic help last year after facing difficulties working in Britain. Many arrived late in the season and found there was not enough work on farms to repay their substantial debts.
About 100 are understood to have gone underground to stay in Britain and work on the black market rather than risk returning home with little or no money once their debts were paid. Some tried to claim asylum.
It is understood this overstaying was the primary reason AG lost its licence, since the terms state that at least 97% of workers should return home on time.
Andy Hall, an independent migrant rights specialist who investigates forced labour in supply chains in Asia, said: “Thousands of vulnerable workers have faced conditions akin to forced labour and debt bondage due to the negligence of seasonal worker scheme operators, including AG Recruitment, the broader framework of a failing seasonal worker scheme and sponsorship licence system, as well as the failures of the UK’s largest retailers and farms to protect this essential workforce from such abuses.
“Conditions created by the seasonal worker scheme structure remain ripe and conducive to worker overstays as a means for these desperate workers to ensure a return on their considerable investments expended to come to the UK. Systemic reform of the scheme is therefore urgent and essential.”
To bring seasonal workers into Britain, recruiters must be a licensed sponsor. The Home Office stressed that a condition of holding the licence was “prevent[ing] abuse of immigration laws and sponsorship arrangements, such as illegal working, including in breach of conditions and ineffective recruitment practices.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All those who benefit directly from migration are responsible for ensuring the immigration system is not abused. We will always take decisive action if sponsors break the rules. We do not comment on individual cases.”
Amesz said: “We’re not a police force … When workers overstay, we have absolutely no jurisdiction, no control, no influence whatsoever.”
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has been investigating AG’s Indonesian recruitment but this has not yet concluded. AG still holds a GLAA licence to recruit.
Recent stories on challenges of UK seasonal worker scheme
3. Immigration: Investors warn food companies about risk of forced labour on UK farms (Financial Times 19th Dec 2022)
4. Investor statement on the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme (Public Investor Statement 19th Dec 2022)
5. Hundreds of Indonesian fruit pickers in UK seek diplomatic help (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)
6. Seasonal worker visa puts migrants at risk of exploitation, say supermarkets (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)