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Press release: ‘Not here for the weather’. Accounts of unfair working conditions and poor accommodation on Britain’s farms

June 2024

A new research report reveals the extent of systemic risks of labour exploitation on UK farms. In the largest independent study of living and working conditions on the UK’s Seasonal Worker Scheme to date, FLEX found that many of the migrant workers interviewed or surveyed for the study faced issues such as underpayment, punishingly high picking targets, constant exhaustion, humiliation, bullying, overcrowded and unsafe accommodation, limited ability to take sick leave and issues accessing basic healthcare.

Many workers reported receiving less hours than they expected. At the other end of the spectrum, others reported working too much – up to 70 hours a week, leaving them exhausted and with inadequate time to take care of themselves. Around one in seven seasonal workers interviewed reported being shouted at or humiliated. Around 1 in 30 were threatened with being deported.

About half of workers surveyed reported being on a piece rate or ‘targets’ system. Only one in four of these workers said they were always able to meet these targets. More than half of those on piece rates reported not always being paid for all the pieces they picked. Interviews with workers highlighted that some of those who were not meeting targets were punished, humiliated or fired.

“I don’t think it’s possible to reach [targets] every day. You know, they’re very, very hard. You need to work like a robot, and what’s the point in breaking your back if after that you go back home and you pay for medical bills.” Cristina, Woman, 25, from Romania. 13th May 2023.

The report also confirms accounts of poor, substandard accommodation on the route. Multiple workers interviewed said that their caravans were overcrowded, that they were living like sardines in a can, like many people in the same room” (AT06, Man, 34, from Romania). Some workers had to share beds with people they had never met before. Just over a third of people surveyed said that they felt safe in their accommodation.

“They are substandard, smelly and not fit for human occupancy. Toilet keeps breaking and it is very hard to prevent the smell from coming inside the bedrooms.”

Taras, Woman, 49, from Ukraine. 1st December 2022.

Lucila Granada, CEO at Focus on Labour Exploitation, said:

“Three years ago, we released research on the scheme when it was in its pilot stage, showing the risks for exploitation on the route. Back then, we noted some indicators of forced labour, as defined by the International Labour Organisation. Since we released that work, there have been many accounts and exposés of the poor conditions faced by those living and working on UK’s farms. Now we’re releasing a much more expansive body of research that shows that things have not meaningfully improved – despite the seasonal workers scheme growing from 2,500 places when we reviewed it to around 45,000 today.

“We need to ensure that UK farm workers are not being put at risk of exploitation, and to do that we need to improve their rights, protections and opportunities to seek redress. We’re calling for the visa to be less restrictive, so that people are not trapped in poor employment. We’re calling for a guaranteed income, so people are not taking out loans and travelling halfway across the world only to find that there is no work available for them. And we’re calling for secure, independent ways for workers to report problems, so that they are not risking deportation by speaking up about their treatment.”

The report, titledNot here for the weather: Ensuring safe and fair conditions on the UK’s Seasonal Worker Scheme”, is the third in a series of reports on migrant farm work in the UK. The first report focused on issues around recruitment, whilst the second looked at the ability of workers to change employers or leave farms.


Notes to Editors

The executive summary and full report is available to read and download here.

For further information please contact FLEX at [email protected]

About the Seasonal Worker Scheme

The Seasonal Worker Scheme, a visa route for migrant workers to work in the UK agriculture has existed in various forms in the UK since 2019 but has seen rapid expansion in recent years. In 2019 the maximum number of visa allocation on the route was 2,500 workers which had risen to 45,000 visa places for horticulture and a further 2,000 for poultry production by 2023.

About the research

This research conducted by FLEX in collaboration with Rosmini Centre Wisbech, Citizen Advice South Lincolnshire, and the Southeast and East Asian Centre (SEEAC) is based on 399 surveys and 83 interviews with migrant workers, as well as 15 stakeholder interviews including scheme operators, retailers, one international organisation, one trade association and staff from frontline support organisations. FLEX also contacted more than 40 growers and several Government departments relevant to the scheme including the Home Office, DEFRA, the HSE and the GLAA, with all declining a request to be interviewed for the study.

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) is a UK charity working to end labour exploitation by challenging and transforming the systems and structures that make workers vulnerable to abuse. FLEX conducts research, advocacy work, coalition and capacity building, and strategic communications.