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Blogs and Opinion Act now to stop abuse and exploitation of migrant farm workers

Act now to stop abuse and exploitation of migrant farm workers

Hope for Justice has signed a joint letter urging the UK Government to overhaul the rules around a type of visa whose current restrictions leave thousands of people more at risk of abuse and exploitation.

From the series Invisible People © Rory Carnegie for National Crime Agency

The letter is reproduced below:

Act now to stop abuse and exploitation of migrant farm workers

In 2019 migrant workers started coming to the UK on the ‘Seasonal Worker Visa’ (SWV) to pick fruit and vegetables for British farmers. The visa is tied to a single labour recruiter and restricted to work in either poultry for up to 2.5 months or horticulture for up to 6 months.

These restrictions are known to significantly increase the risk of abuse and exploitation for workers, with increasing evidence of this in the UK. Workers on the scheme can be recruited from any country worldwide, further increasing their vulnerability. The UK has expanded the scheme from just 2,500 workers in 2019 to up to 57,000 in 2023, without recognising and properly addressing the high risks of this visa that have been highlighted by both government and non-government experts.*

As organisations supporting and representing the interests of workers on this visa and academics researching its impact, we are 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.

Workers are incurring debt, travelling long distances and leaving their families behind with the promise of decent work. Unless the Government makes a serious commitment to protect them by urgently overhauling this visa scheme, they will continue to be abused and exploited in return.

Signed by:

  • Bev Clarkson, Unite the Union
  • Kate Bell, Trades Union Congress
  • Caroline Robinson, Worker Support Centre (WSC)
  • Siobhan McGrath, University of Durham
  • Roxana Barbulescu, University of Leeds
  • Marissa Begonia, Voice of Domestic Workers
  • Dr. Manoj Dias-Abey, University of Bristol
  • Eleonora Fais, Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG)
  • Rita Gava, Kalayaan
  • Lucila Granada, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
  • Dr Joyce Jiang, University of York
  • Victoria Marks, Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU)
  • Tim Nelson, Hope for Justice
  • Jasmine O’Connor, Anti-Slavery International
  • Konstantinos Alexandris Polomarkakis, University of Exeter
  • Dr Natalie Sedacca, Durham Law School
  • Adis Sehic, Work Rights Centre
  • Andy Sirel, JustRight Scotland
  • Dr Inga Thiemann, University of Exeter

* For example:

young girl