3rd April 2024: Financial Times (London) UK employment – Britain’s seasonal worker scheme leaves many migrants in debt, research finds

3rd April 2024: Financial Times (London) UK employment – Britain’s seasonal worker scheme leaves many migrants in debt, research finds

3rd April 2024: Financial Times (London) UK employment – Britain’s seasonal worker scheme leaves many migrants in debt, research finds

Findings will add to concerns that the seasonal worker scheme visa puts people at risk of debt bondage and exploitation.

Original Source: Financial Times by Delphine Strauss in London – 3rd April 2023

Almost three-quarters of workers recruited through the Seasonal Worker Scheme, which allows UK growers to hire around 45,000 people a year on six-month visas, borrowed an average of more than £1,200 to come to the country and most had little certainty over how much they would earn once they arrived, the research organisation Focus on Labour Exploitation (Flex) found.

Most migrants working on UK farms take out big loans to cover their upfront costs, without knowing whether they will earn enough to pay off their debts, according to research published on Tuesday.

3rd April 2024: Independent – Migrant fruit pickers saddled with debts of up to £5,500 to come to UK through government scheme

Original Source: The Independent – 3rd April 2024

The findings will add to existing concerns that the design of the UK’s visa scheme — a lifeline for a sector that has struggled to recruit since Brexit — is leaving workers at risk of debt bondage and exploitation, unable to quit jobs even if they find the work and living conditions worse than promised.

They come on the back of a damning report by the UK’s borders and immigration watchdog on the UK’s visa scheme for care workers, described as leaving migrants vulnerable to “shocking” exploitation.

Lucila Granada, Flex’s chief executive, said it was “disappointing” that farm workers were still being put at risk when concerns had been flagged as early as 2021.

She acknowledged that the operators charged with bringing workers to the UK have made concerted efforts to improve the information available to potential recruits, and to stamp out illegal practices by local middlemen, while food retailers were also keen to address labour abuses in their supply chains.  

But there were still instances of workers paying illegal fees to brokers who arranged their job, on top of the lawful costs of Home Office visa fees, air fares and expenses for the weeks before the first pay cheque.

More than half of nearly 500 workers surveyed or interviewed by Flex said that before arriving in the UK they did not have accurate information on how many hours they would work or how much they would earn.

Meanwhile contracts shown to workers before they set out were not always translated into the relevant language and did not always match those they were asked to sign after arrival, with many people finding they could not earn as much as expected, leaving them struggling to clear their debts.

“We want to see that this isn’t a lottery for workers — with safeguards embedded in the structure of the scheme,” Granada said.  

Flex argued that workers on the scheme should not be expected to bear the financial risks of coming to the UK and added that it should operate on an “employer pays” principle.

The organisation also wants the government to consider listing the countries recruits can come from, because people who relied on working in the UK for several seasons had been affected when some routes suddenly closed.

A task force set up by supermarkets seeking to eliminate worker exploitation in their supply chains is exploring similar ideas, including moving the seasonal worker scheme on to an ‘employer pays’ principle.

Sophie de Salis, sustainability policy adviser at industry body the British Retail Consortium, said retailers had been working with the rest of the industry and government since 2022 to improve workers’ experience and were funding a feasibility study this year to explore how the scheme could move to an “employer pays” principle.

But she added that the government needed to address “systemic issues driving illegal recruitment fees”, including by recruiting from a set list of countries and setting a five-year rolling quota for recruitment.

The Home Office said the department was “clamping down on poor working conditions and exploitation” and had made improvements to the scheme in each of the four years it had been running.

“We will always take decisive action where we believe abusive practices are taking place or the conditions of the route are not met,” they added.

Additional Reading:

3rd April 2024: Independent – Migrant fruit pickers saddled with debts of up to £5,500 to come to UK through government scheme

26th January 2024: UK Seasonal Worker Scheme Modern Slavery Issues: Indonesian fruit picker landed in debt bondage challenges Home Office

26th Jan 2024: ATLEU – UK government fails to protect workers from trafficking and exploitation

26th Jan 2024: ATLEU – Challenge to government’s Seasonal Worker Scheme

25th Jan 2024 Home Office: UK government survey on experiences of seasonal workers scheme confirms the exceptionally high levels of issues (confusion, fees etc) faced by Indonesian and Nepali workers in 2021/2022

24th Jan 2024: ATLEU – Seasonal worker recognised as a potential victim of trafficking

20th Jan 2024 Independent: Migrant fruit picker may have been modern slavery victim under Home Office scheme, government finds

12th January 2024: UK government ‘breaching international law’ with seasonal worker scheme, says UN envoy

2nd Dec 2023 Independent: Nepali Migrant fruit picker who ‘struggled to buy food after being underpaid by British farm’ sues employers

FLEX 6th Nov 2023 – FLEX on the House of Lords Horticultural Committee report

6th Nov 2023: UK government complicit in exploitation of farm workers – Bureau of Investigative Journalism

FLEX 26th Oct 2023 – Seasonal Workers’ Rights; Who’s Responsible?

25th Oct 2023: DEFRA Former Secretary – Seasonal Worker Scheme should be taken away from Home Office to prevent continued abuses.

20th Sept 2023: Worker interest groups’ statement on leaving the UK ‘Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce’.

27th July 2023 Maplecroft: UK’s Seasonal Worker Scheme Raising Human Rights Concerns in the Food Sector.

21st July 2023: Vulnerable UK migrant workers at risk as audits of farm recruiters stall

23rd June 2023 – ‘They’re afraid’: Seasonal farm workers in the UK face poor conditions and visa hurdles.

17th March 2023 BHRRC Blog Series: UK Seasonal Worker Scheme Endangers Vulnerable Foreign Workers. (My Op Ed)

16th March 2023: Labour agencies to face supermarket scrutiny over foreign worker exploitation claims in UK seasonal worker scheme.

11th March 2023: ‘UK Seasonal Workers Scheme Taskforce’ to fund audits to prevent worker exploitation.

23rd February 2023: Farm workers on UK seasonal visas to be guaranteed 32 hours a week

Other stories on challenges of UK seasonal worker scheme

1. Working in the UK: Hundreds of Indonesian Citizens Escape, More Than 1,200 Workers from Indonesia Threatened to Cancel (BBC, 16th Feb 2023)

2. 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 (Guardian, 10th Feb 2023)

3. Indonesian former fruit pickers become illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK – ‘This is the easiest shortcut’ (BBC, 26th Jan 2023)

4. Home Office accepts recommendations in Chief Inspector’s report on immigration system as it relates to the agricultural sector (Freeths, 16th Jan 2023)

5. Immigration: Investors warn food companies about risk of forced labour on UK farms (Financial Times 19th Dec 2022)

6. Investor statement on the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme (Public Investor Statement 19th Dec 2022)

7. Hundreds of Indonesian fruit pickers in UK seek diplomatic help  (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)

8. Seasonal worker visa puts migrants at risk of exploitation, say supermarkets (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)

9. Seasonal fruit pickers from Nepal left thousands in debt after being sent home early from UK farms (Guardian, 13th Nov 2022)

10. Indonesia to investigate claims fruit pickers in UK seasonal agricultural workers scheme charged thousands to work in Kent (Guardian, 29th Aug 2022)

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