New report uncovers exploitation of seasonal Ukrainian workers on British farms
As the Immigration Minister suggested Ukrainian refugees could pick fruit on UK farms, a new charity report found that Seasonal Workers are exploited on a regular basis.
Employment rights charity, the Work Rights Centre, today published its report into labour exploitation on Britain’s farms. Drawing on the real-life stories of 26 predominantly Ukrainian seasonal agricultural workers, the report outlines the barriers to reporting, and the steps enforcement agencies need to take to better protect them.
The report is particularly relevant in light of the current crisis in Ukraine and Immigration Minister Kevin Foster’s comments that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict could apply to the scheme.
The report told the stories of workers who:
- Had been duped during the recruitment process in their home countries, paying hundreds of pounds to rogue intermediaries for a visa
- Found themselves isolated on farms, with no transportation, waiting for long periods of time without work that had been contractually promised.
- Experienced weeks where, after paying for utilities, they weren’t making the National Minimum Wage.
- Lived in cramped, poorly insulated caravans with faulty appliances, mould, and unclean offsite toilet and washing facilities.
- Suffered accidents, including falls and chemical burns, at work due to a lack of PPE, or health conditions caused by backbreaking physical labour.
- Were bullied by supervisors who created a culture of control where verbal (often ethnically-targeted) and sometimes even physical abuse were common.
The charity’s Director, Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, commented: “Solidarity with Ukraine shouldn’t be about slogans. It should be about a welcoming immigration system and decent work. Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury in the UK – 20 times higher than the industry average – and labour exploitation frequently goes unreported due to individual worker vulnerabilities, intimidation from supervisors, and concerns over the limits of the enforcement system.”
The report outlines some of the barriers to reporting and makes valuable recommendations for the main agencies involved in the maintenance of workers’ welfare and employment rights, such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Home Office and Health and Safety Executive.
In addition to closer collaboration between these agencies and migrants’ rights organisations, the report’s recommendations include the implementation of the client charter to build trust in the reporting system, the introduction of workers’ rights champions on farms, the implementation of worker outreach programmes, and an increase to both the number of unannounced site inspections and to the penalty for non-compliance.
“Migrant workers are the backbone of the UK’s agricultural sector, but are too often treated as second-class citizens,” Andrei Savitski, one of the report’s authors explains. “It’s so important that people realise the scale of this problem and that it is taking place, out of sight, across the country.”