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Worker interest groups’ statement on leaving the ‘Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce’

August 14, 2023

The Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce, composed of a range of industry, retailer and non-profit stakeholders, was established in March 2023, to explore ways of joint working to safeguard and ensure access to rights for workers in the UK on the horticultural Seasonal Worker visa (SWV).  

As organisations supporting and representing seasonal horticultural workers’ interests, we have engaged in the Taskforce in good faith and sought to contribute staff time to outputs and meetings within the scope of our existing resources. We initially viewed the Taskforce as a valuable opportunity to discuss the serious limitations of the scheme, and to make constructive and collaborative multi-stakeholder proposals for its improvement to the scheme leads: DEFRA and the Home Office. Then, and now, our concerns with the SWS are that it renders workers vulnerable to indebtedness and exploitation, and that the scheme lacks a robust way to monitor workers’ welfare, to ensure access to decent work, or to justice for workers on the scheme during their time in the UK.

In the five months we have engaged in the Taskforce, and in discussions prior to its formation, we have sought to develop common priorities on which to work, that would serve the interests of the workers we exist to support and meet industry needs from the scheme. On a range of issues our priorities differ from those of industry. Certain initiatives that pre-date the formation of the Taskforce yet are now being attached to it do not reflect our priorities and therefore make it very hard for us to claim to support the work of the Taskforce.

We have always sought to ensure scheme governance and oversight is delivered by the UK Government, rather than through voluntary initiatives. However, despite Defra officials attending Taskforce meetings as an observer, there has been no engagement from the Home Office and/or UKVI.  Meanwhile, it has become increasingly apparent that the Home Office and UK Government views the Taskforce as an alternative to direct engagement with organisations supporting workers, thereby placing workers at greater risk of abuse and exploitation. 

We have therefore come to the decision that the interests of the workers we support and represent will be better served by redirecting our attention elsewhere. In particular we will be working with worker representatives and support organisations, including trade unions, to collectively advance urgent priorities for the workers we serve. 

As organisations that provide support to migrant seasonal workers or conduct regular analysis and research to explore the root causes of exploitation under the SWV, we have engaged with seasonal workers across all parts of the UK to understand and document the issues that they face. We will continue this work to support seasonal workers in horticulture, and to use the wealth of evidence we have developed from our work to inform productive policy recommendations to Government and industry. We will continue this work individually and collectively with all other organisations working for the welfare of workers on the SWV across the UK. We remain open to collaboration with the Taskforce collectively as well as with individual Taskforce members where priorities align and are in the process of establishing a Worker Interest Group for this purpose. Together we hope to address the urgent challenges this scheme presents workers in the UK. 

Work Rights Centre

Worker Support Centre

Focus on Labour Exploitation

Anti-Slavery International