Seasonal workers arrive on seasonal visas, only to find themselves ‘hostage’ to their new country
Hundreds of Ukrainians in the UK on seasonal visas have ended up working on farms they describe as “This is akin modern slavery,” the Guardian, which spoke to multiple people who had escaped from such farms, reported on Tuesday.
A Ukrainian worker who escaped one of the farms described feeling like a “The UK hostage situation,” unable to go home because of the war but forced to do menial labor for a living despite having two university degrees. Her boyfriend and she had previously worked as laborers on a cherry plant, where gloves were prohibited. This caused severe skin and hand damage.
“No one cares about the fate of seasonal workers. Our rights should be fully protected here in the UK, but it hasn’t happened. The worst experience and worst treatment I have ever experienced while working on a farm was probably my worst.,” the woman said, adding that the farm management set “unachievable targets” and when workers tried to protest, suspended them for a week.
“I will never go to work on any of the farms again – there are no happy stories,” she continued. “Everybody runs..” She said all but 38 of the workers at the cherry farm where she and her boyfriend toiled had fled as well and most were trying their luck in the underground economy of the cities.
The primary beneficiaries of T5 season work visas to the UK are Ukrainians. Two thirds (19.920) of the 29.631 visas this type go to workers temporarily from Ukraine. Should they leave the farms where they say they are being abused, however, their options are limited – under-the-table employment, since they no longer have a legal visa to get an on-the-books job, or going home, where war is currently raging.
The UK has been accused of mistreating its workers before. This is not the first instance. A review by the Home Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published last year revealed that migrant workers who had come to the UK to harvest fruit and vegetables were subject to “unacceptable” welfare conditions like a lack of safety equipment, kitchens, toilets, or even running water.
Some migrant workers might be able to change to another type of visa to allow them to remain in the UK for longer periods and to work legally, due to Europe’s focus on Ukraine. The UK plans to accept applications for a so-called Ukraine extension scheme starting in May under which those with seasonal work visas who have escaped farms can potentially stay three more years, since seasonal workers don’t fall under the two existing classes of government programs for Ukrainian refugees.
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A government spokesperson insisted that “No seasonal worker should ever be made to work under exploitive conditions.s” and “strongly advise[d] any people in these circumstances to report issues to the police so steps can be taken for their safeguarding and well-being.” Given the horrific conditions described at the farms, however, it’s unclear how the workers – new arrivals in a strange country – would be able to reach the police.
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