Examination of Witnesses

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:21 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Meri Åhlberg:

We have done research on the previous seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which ended in 2013, and we have also done research on the sector-based scheme, which brought workers into hospitality and food processing. That ended in 2013, but had been slowly being phased out.

In the sector-based scheme it was found that workers were paying up to £10,000 in recruitment fees to come to the UK. They were heavily in debt when they arrived in the UK, and were therefore unable to leave abusive or exploitative situations because they were afraid of not being able to pay back that debt.

In the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, there were a lot of issues around people being unable to change their employer. They had to have permission from the scheme operator to do so, but sometimes the scheme operator and the employer were the same person. In practice it was very difficult to change employers, meaning that if you were in an exploitative or abusive situation you had to either choose to leave the country and leave your source of income, or put up with it. There are a lot of cases of people not being paid the minimum wage, and of people not having guaranteed hours and so not earning enough. There was an over- supply of workers, meaning that employers did not have to provide enough work for people to earn money. There will be a similar problem in this scheme; there are not any guaranteed hours in the seasonal workers programme pilot.