The government’s Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme (the “Scheme”) has been extended until the end of 2024 to allow foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months to pick both edible and ornamental crops.
The Scheme was launched in March 2019 and allowed temporary migrant workers from non-EU countries to work in the UK edible horticulture sector for up to 6 months, in each of 2019 and 2020. The majority of workers who came to the UK under the Scheme were employed picking soft fruits, almost exclusively on farms in England and Scotland. The extension widens this to cover ornamental crops as well.
Requirements to maintain high standards of immigration control and migrant welfare were essential to the Scheme. However, a recent UK government survey has highlighted labour abuse concerns over the Scheme, finding that workers:
— Had not received an employment contract in their native language;
— Had not been provided with the legally required health and safety equipment;
— Were treated unfairly by farm managers, including by racism, discrimination or mistreatment allegedly on the grounds of nationality;
— Had reported issues with the quality of their accommodation (including in some cases that it was unsafe, uncomfortable, unhygienic and/or cold with no bathroom, kitchen or running water).
A separate review in Scotland has highlighted similar concerns.
Not only should employers in the Agricultural sector be aware that the mistreatment of migrant workers is under the spotlight, and ensure that they are legally compliant, they should also carefully consider their National Minimum Wage (“NMW”) obligations. The NMW rules are complex – and if employers fall foul of the rules by accident, they may well be tarred with the same brush as the employers covered by the government’s survey.
It is important to note that beyond complying with the specific requirements of the Scheme, there are wider immigration obligations that must be considered, such as prevention of illegal working and where relevant, reporting and record-keeping duties. This will be particularly important for the increasing number of employers in the sector who have either already obtained or are considering applying for a Sponsor Licence to fill skills gaps in their organisation.
Our Employment, Immigration and Regulatory experts are here to provide specialist advice where needed.