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New Project: Supporting and listening to migrant farm workers in Scotland

May 12, 2020

In March 2020, FLEX and Fife Migrants’ Forum started a new piece of work together to understand and document the experiences of migrant agricultural workers in Angus, Fife, Kincardineshire and Perthshire. This work builds on FLEX’s previous work to understand the possible risks of the UK Government’s ‘seasonal workers pilot’ in agriculture.

The seasonal workers pilot opened in April 2019 to fill labour shortages on British farms. Around 1/5 of all workers on the pilot, 426 workers initially, were allocated to soft fruit and vegetable farms in Scotland. Workers travelling to the UK on the seasonal workers pilot have the right to remain for six months at a time, helping to harvest vital crops for UK consumption.

Together, FLEX and Fife Migrants’ Forum will work to assess the risks of worker abuse and exploitation posed by the scheme, and will deliver practical tools to help workers to protect themselves in the workplace. This will increase worker access to information and help those who are facing abuse or exploitation to reach support services early. We’ll do this by providing workers with information tools, undertaking outreach work and documenting worker and farmer experiences of the pilot to better understand its on-the-ground impact.

Fife Migrants Forum was founded in 2010 by members of migrant and local communities and agencies in Fife, Scotland, responding to the need for support for migrants coming to Fife from around the world. Over the past ten years the organisation has delivered an information and advice service ranging from crisis and preventative intervention to assisting cohesion. Daily activities include advice and information on welfare, housing, health, employment, migration, increasing employability and language support. To counter discrimination and to promote human rights, Fife Migrants’ Forum conducts cross-community activities with migrants from across the world.

Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, FLEX has been looking closely at the risk of exploitation in the future migration schemes and future labour market. We’ve been speaking to workers to understand the impact of the changing labour market on their labour rights, and to identify ways in which they can be protected from the greater risk of exploitation Brexit brings. Since 2018, FLEX has been working with the Scottish Government to identify ways in which they can offer migrant workers a guarantee that their labour rights will be protected in Scotland, thereby reducing risks of exploitation.

In early 2020, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, stated her commitment to ensuring Scotland does not become a place where ‘individual workers adhere on sufferance’[1]. In order to achieve this she said she wanted to see ‘fair work right at the heart of the economy’ after Brexit.

The partnership between FLEX and Fife Migrants’ Forum will not only serve to support migrant workers on British farms, but will also provide vital information to inform the Scottish Government’s future policy on what fair work for migrant workers in Scotland after Brexit should look like.

[1] Launch of Scotland’s Migration Policy Paper, Edinburgh, 27 January 2020.