Sapana Pangeni, a 31-year-old migrant from Nepal, has initiated a ground-breaking employment tribunal case against a British farm, alleging underpayment and challenging working conditions.
Employed at EU Plants Ltd in Berkshire, a prominent producer of raspberry and strawberry plants, Pangeni claims she was not fully compensated for her work between November 2022 and January 2023.
Pangeni, who arrived in the UK under the government's agricultural sector visa scheme, asserts that she worked six days a week for up to eight and a half hours daily. She recounts running out of money within weeks of her arrival, relying on a friend's £60 donation for groceries, which she shared with other financially-strapped Nepali workers at the farm.
Her grievances include being underpaid, not receiving a formal contract, having to provide her own personal protective equipment, and facing indirect discrimination due to her six-month visa status. This, she argues, made it more challenging to assert her rights compared to those with more secure immigration statuses.
Legal representatives argue that Pangeni's case highlights the indirect discrimination faced by workers on short-term visas, who struggle to uphold their rights. Nearly 35,000 migrant workers entered the UK on six-month seasonal worker visas last year, with human rights groups warning about the potential for exploitation due to the visa's structure and lax enforcement of employment regulations.
EU Plants Ltd has strongly denied Pangeni's claims and intends to defend against them vigorously. The company acknowledged a failure to pay £192 in holiday pay, which was rectified after Pangeni initiated legal proceedings.
The case, which began with a preliminary hearing, is set to continue over four days in May 2024.