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New immigration rules 'run the risk of labour exploitation'

A series of short online guides has been created to support employers of migrant workers after research found that companies were unaware or confused by changing Government immigration legislation.

Time is running out for companies that use EU seasonal workers to ensure that staff are registered until the new EU Settlement Scheme, which ends on June 30. They must be registered to continue to remain and work legally in the UK.

However, research by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has discovered many employers are unaware of the schemes available or the deadline.

This means there is a risk of the deadline being reached in the midst of peak growing season and employees will either not be available or not have the legal right to work – leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

Migrant workers creative commons

The law was changed this year after Brexit saw the end of free movement which had allowed EU citizens and Swiss nationals to freely come to live and work in the UK. It was replaced by an immigration points system.

This scheme has been criticised for the loss of hundreds of migrant seasonal workers from the UK and the subsequent effects on the horticulture, produce and flower industries. In Spring, the daffodil sector suffered losses of up to 40% because of a lack of workers.

Professors Dave Walsh, of DMU’s Modern Slavery Action Group, said in-depth interviews had been conducted with 43 employers in different parts of the fresh produce and horticulture industries.

The team found:

•    Almost 90% of employers interviewed said it had impacted their businesses
•    Recruitment agencies were unable to find available seasonal staff as workers moved to jobs elsewhere in Europe
•    Many companies feared they would be forced to choose between not harvesting their crop or using workers who do not have the right to work in the UK

Comments from the companies include: “I have no idea where we are going to get our workforce from” and “The new immigration rules are becoming an easy breeding ground for bad behaviour” to “It will be a good environment for bad things to happen”.

In response to this, the Modern Slavery Action Group team created a series of short guides to help employers understand what they need to do by June 30.

Employers: Find the short guides here

Full settled status will allow someone to remain living and working in the UK indefinitely, and pre-settled status will allow someone a period of five years from the date of their application to live and work in the UK and work towards acquiring full settled status.
The interviews did point to a minority of companies recognising the need to change their recruitment practices, improving training opportunities and working more closely with recruitment agencies. Agencies themselves were found to have increased pay rates to encourage workers to stay.

The research team also highlighted that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could be effectively ‘masking’ the true extent of the issue as lockdowns, travel restrictions and furloughed workers taking up seasonal jobs may have also covered the true impact.  

The research team at De Montfort University is Professor Dave Walsh, Professor Khalid Hafeez, Dr Laura Pajón and Ms Karen Lawson.

Posted on Friday 11th June 2021

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