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Migrant fruit pickers charged thousands in illegal fees to work on UK farms


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Another example of overseas seasonal workers being exploited to pick fruit and vegetables - not by the farms, but recruitment companies.
 

The Guardian 27th May 2022

Migrant fruit pickers charged thousands in illegal fees to work on UK farms, investigation shows
Evidence appears to show illicit payments taken from workers harvesting produce for M&S, Tesco and Waitrose

(extracts)

Ditya, a single mother from Nepal, is used to travelling abroad for work. For years she has made a living as a migrant farm worker, where she can earn several times what she would in her home country. Last year she applied to become part of the UK government’s seasonal worker visa scheme, picking fruit and vegetables on a farm in Herefordshire that supplies fresh produce to Marks & Spencer (M&S), Tesco and Waitrose.

Ditya got the job, but it came at a huge cost. In order to secure it, she says she had to pay more than £3,000 – almost a third of what she earned during the six-month post – to recruitment agents.

Some of that money covered the cost of her flight and visa application. The rest appears to include illegal fees that labour rights experts describe as “exploitative and extortionate”.

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian can reveal that as many as 150 Nepali workers who came to work at Cobrey Farms in Herefordshire as part of the government scheme may have paid similar amounts, many of them claiming they paid agents working for a UK-licensed recruitment company.

The UK government launched the seasonal workers pilot scheme in 2019 to address concerns that the withdrawal from the EU would cause a shortage of labour for harvesting jobs on farms. Its rules state that workers should only pay a visa application fee of £259 (£244 until April this year) and travel costs. Any additional recruitment fees are illegal under UK law and can result in a labour provider being stripped of its licence.

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