Migrant farmworkers in Britain are being trapped and mistreated by employers in conditions ripe for modern slavery, campaigners said on Tuesday, urging the government to review a scheme designed to avoid agricultural labour shortages post-Brexit.
Seasonal labourers in Scotland have been pressured to sign zero-hour contracts, made to live and work in degrading conditions, and prevented from changing employers, a study by the Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) NGO and a Scottish nonprofit found.
About six in 10 workers said they incurred debts up to 870 pounds ($1,204) for visas and other costs, while many reported being threatened by bosses with fewer work hours or the prospect of deportation – which are drivers of forced labour – FLEX said.
Before Britain left the European Union last year, the agriculture sector was heavily reliant on migrant workers from Eastern Europe, putting pressure on the government to ensure farms had enough labourers following Brexit.
The Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) was launched in 2019 with an annual quota of 2,500 migrants, which has expanded to 30,000 this year. Workers who obtain a visa can stay in Britain for six months, and the vast majority so far have arrived from Ukraine.