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1 Jun 2024

UK: Report by finds a "culture of bullying, humiliation & harassment" for migrant seasonal workers on UK farms


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, interviewed by FLEX

In June 2024, Focus on Labour Exploitation released a report, titled “Not here for the weather: Ensuring safe and fair conditions on the UK’s Seasonal Worker Scheme”, focusing on how to make the Seasonal Worker Scheme (SWS) safer and fairer for workers. The report is the third in a series, with previous reports covering recruitment and migrant worker transfer following abuse.

The report focuses on data from 399 surveys and 83 interviews with migrant workers on the country’ seasonal worker scheme, collected between June 2022 and October 2023, alongside interviews with 15 key stakeholders.

Key findings include:

  • Hours were a recurring issue. For example, shifts were often irregular and workers reported being denied hours as punishment for not working fast enough.
  • Some workers also reported experiencing wage theft, including underpayment of wages, withheld wages, and working overtime without pay.
  • Around half of workers were paid on a piece rate system, but many workers – and particularly women - alleged it was not possible to reach the piece rate target for each day.
  • Over half of surveyed workers (55.9%) reported being unsure whether they had paid sick leave, and only one in ten workers reported having sick pay. Further, over half of workers did not know if they had access to paid annual leave.
  • Workers reported health and safety concerns linked to the strenuous nature of their work, including four in five workers reporting feeling physically exhausted from work. Mental health concerns were also flagged by workers amid constant pressure and long shifts.
  • Workers’ testimony suggests a “culture of bullying, humiliation and harassment”, including workers experiencing physical abuse for not picking fast enough or being threatened with deportation. Seven workers also were expected to provide sexual services to their employers and two said they had to do so regularly. Other workers spoke of sexual harassment and sexual violence on farms.
  • Workers experienced racial or nationality-based discrimination, including one in six workers experiencing racist comments or behaviour at work.
  • Workers reported unsuitable or/and unsanitary living conditions, with workers living in overcrowded caravans and some workers having to share rooms or beds with strangers. Only half of surveyed workers reported their accommodation was “clean and comfortable”, only one in five said they had enough privacy, and just over a third of workers felt safe in their accommodation.
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.
Lucila Granada, CEO at Focus on Labour Exploitation