An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and VICE World News, published 27th March 2023, reported widespread mistreatment of migrants working on farms in the UK during 2022.
These reports of exploitation are not new, many migrant farm workers enter the UK on a short term agricultural seasonal worker visa. The visa has a maximum six month duration, restrictions on type and place of work and no recourse to public funds. Combined with a lack of proactive labour market enforcement or practical options for accessing redress this leaves workers with few options to challenge poor working conditions.
19 organisations supporting and representing the interests of workers on this visa and academics researching its impact, have published a public letter calling on the Government to take urgent action to address the risks of the scheme, including by:
1. Tackling the known risks to workers at the point of recruitment, including by establishing government-to-government agreements with sending countries to protect workers and by significantly increasing funding for oversight of overseas labour providers;
2. Preventing debt bondage, including by ensuring that no recruitment or migration fees or costs are charged to or borne by seasonal migrant workers and guaranteeing a minimum income to workers for the duration of their stay in the UK;
3. Preventing exploitation on UK farms, by ensuring workers have accessible complaints processes and removing barriers that prevent workers leaving abusive and potentially exploitative employers or a job that does not give them enough work or income; and
4. Ensuring SWV scheme compliance, by appointing an independent agency to uphold labour standards on the scheme, properly resourcing inspection and enforcement of workplaces and facilitating worker access to compensation.