A review into the experiences of seasonal workers on a government pilot scheme has found that many were treated unfairly or subject to discrimination or racism by employers.
The government’s seasonal workers pilot was launched in 2019 and allowed licensed employers to recruit temporary migrant workers from non-EU countries to address a shortfall in staff. Migrant workers could come to the UK and work in agricultural settings for up to six months in 2019 and 2020.
As part of the review into the pilot’s effectiveness, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sent out a survey to pilot workers to ensure they were not subject to modern slavery or other employment abuses.
The Home Office also conducted compliance visits to ensure employers taking part in the pilot were abiding by the conditions set by government, which included the adequate protection and fair treatment of migrant workers.
Almost half of the compliance visits conducted by the Home Office found that workers had not received an employment contract in their native language, which was one of the conditions of taking part. Promised health and safety equipment did not materialise at four sites, such as steel toe-capped boots.
Defra’s survey found that 15% of respondents felt their accommodation was “neither safe, comfortable, hygienic nor warm”, while 10% said their accommodation had no bathroom, no running water, and no kitchen.
Almost a quarter (22%) of respondents said they had not been treated fairly by farm managers. Allegations included racism, discrimination and mistreatment based on nationality. There were reports of disrespectful language towards the workers or them being passed over for better work or accommodation.
The Home Office said it had tightened up its compliance requirements in response to the results of the review, and that no instances of modern slavery were identified.
The pilot itself was expanded to 10,000 places in 2020, and 30,000 in 2021. It continues to be under review.
Concluding the review, the Home Office said: “This review for 2019 has shown positive aspects of the pilot as well as some clear areas for improvement, particularly with concern to migrant welfare, which the Home Office has already taken steps to address.”
HR roles in the Agriculture and Forestry sector on Personnel Today