A recent study by the Landworkers' Alliance (LWA) in collaboration with various organisations has highlighted the systemic issues in the UK's immigration system that lead to the exploitation of seasonal workers in the horticultural sector.
The report, titled "Debt, Migration and Exploitation: The Seasonal Worker Visa and the Degradation of Working Conditions in UK Horticulture," examines the plight of seasonal workers, primarily recruited from abroad, who are essential for the UK's agricultural sector.
The UK government estimates that each year, between 50,000 and 60,000 seasonal workers are required for harvesting across the country. The majority of these workers are brought in through the Seasonal Worker Visa scheme, introduced in 2019 to address labour shortages post-Brexit.
However, recent investigations have exposed a range of issues faced by these visa holders, including low pay, wage theft, long working hours, and mistreatment by supervisors.
The LWA's latest study adds to this growing body of evidence, revealing the legal and economic frameworks that enable the exploitation of these workers. It also provides a platform for the workers themselves to share their experiences and suggest solutions to the challenges they face. An analysis by the New Economics Foundation, included in the report, shows that these migrant workers earn just 7.6% of the total retail price of the produce they pick.
The report also discusses the negative impact of illegal broker fees, which some workers have to pay to recruitment agencies in their home countries. These fees can result in workers essentially losing money, as their earnings are insufficient to cover accommodation, subsistence, and travel costs. The study includes a detailed account from a former seasonal worker from Nepal, highlighting the exploitation by recruitment agencies and the need for a safer and more secure visa scheme.
In its concluding section, the report explores alternative labour rights models, drawing on the experiences of worker-led initiatives in Florida, USA, as potential solutions to the issues raised.