By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2787

Migrant fruit pickers face racist abuse, no running water, unsafe housing

Despite the damning evidence, the government report says the seasonal worker immigration scheme is fit for purpose
Issue 2787
A row of caravans in a field

A row of caravans where fruit pickers live

Some of the poorest migrants who work in agriculture face racism, bad conditions and unfair treatment, according to a new government survey. 

Thousands of workers came to Britain, mainly to pick fruit, since 2019 as part of a Home Office scheme called the Seasonal Workers Pilot. 

Workers who took part in the scheme were on average paid £8.77 an hour—just above minimum wage—for long shifts and backbreaking work on often isolated farms. 

A shocking 10 percent of workers said that they had no running water in their accommodation, others said there was no access to a kitchen or a bathroom. 

And a further 15 percent said that their accommodation was “neither safe, comfortable, hygienic nor warm”. 

Workers at four farms across England and Scotland also said they were not given the correct health and safety gear, forcing them to get their own. 

Some workers said managers used racist language. And others said they had been passed over by managers for better accommodation and positions because of their nationality. 

In 2019 the pilot allowed bosses to employ 2,500 workers from outside the European Union (EU) on temporary contracts for up to six months. It was then expanded in 2020 to allow them to hire up to 10,000 migrant workers. 

Some workers reported that bosses’ presentations about the kind of work they’d be doing and their accommodation were inaccurate. 

Up to 71 percent of the workers interviewed said that their bosses had not kept to their contractual agreements. And almost half of workers knew someone who had not received a contract in their native language. This was a condition of the pilot.

While the report reveals some of the mistreatment of migrant workers, but it’s just the thin end of the wedge. The evidence came from interviews with just 124 migrants. 

Despite the damning contents in the report, it concluded the scheme can continue because it claims it only happens rarely.

The Tory government is now looking to expand the pilot until 2024. Pro-Force and Concordia, recruitment agencies that operate the pilot, are eager to continue squeezing a profit from migrant workers’ misery. 

The Tories are determined to make Britain’s brutal and racist immigration system even worse. The conditions faced by migrant fruit pickers show how they want to make it harder for people to make a life in Britain. 

Trade unions have to organise, building unity among migrant and non-migrant workers to raise everyone’s pay and conditions. And anti-racists have to fight to overturn the laws that leave migrant workers with few rights. 

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