Modern slavery is an umbrella term encompassing slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.
The Modern Slavery Act gives law enforcement the tools to fight modern slavery. The Act can ensure perpetrators can receive suitably severe punishments for appalling crimes and enhance support and protection for victims. It received Royal Assent in 2015.
The majority of slavery incidents are victims of exploitation in private sector activities, such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture. Forced labour and slavery is big business.
Evidence released in August by the office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, finds poor reporting and low levels of action by the UK agricultural sector on modern slavery.
The UK has been described as being one of the main destinations of trafficked workers in Europe.
Increasing identification and reporting of suspected cases reflects on the improved awareness of modern slavery and its various forms. However, the scale of modern slavery nationally is also increasing. It remains a significant threat as demand for low cost-services continues to thrive.
National Referral Mechanism data shows that in 2017 approximately 46% of all referrals related to labour exploitation; with 1,326 potential adult victims and 1,026 potential child victims recorded in the UK. This reflects a total increase of 47% compared to 2016 figures.
The Modern Slavery Act
The Modern Slavery Act requires firms with a turnover of £36 million or more to produce an annual statement showing what they have done to ensure their operations are slavery-free.
Less than half the agricultural companies in that category had complied by June, according to a report by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner – a lower proportion than in 2017.
Generally speaking agriculture is a high-risk sector for potential modern slavery and human trafficking. The International Labour Organisation places agriculture, alongside forestry and fishing, as the sector with the fourth highest proportion of victims of forced labour worldwide. It is therefore important that UK businesses working within this sector take concerted action against modern slavery.
The agricultural sector’s low compliance rate is found to be in line with that of other high risk sectors (food processing and packaging; mining; hotels), suggesting poor compliance rates under the Act may be common practice.
In the UK, the number of modern slavery cases rose by 35% from 2016-17. Agriculture and the food industry among the worst sectors. The food and farming industry are exploiting an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 people.
Slavoury in Agriculture
Agriculture is high-risk as it relies on low-skilled seasonal immigrant workers sometimes facing exploitative wages, unsanitary working and living conditions and even physical attacks from supervisors, experts say.
“Due to the nature of the work, it is not necessary to speak English. Foreign workers may be unable to communicate due to language restrictions and are often unaware of their rights as employees. Some companies and individuals exploit this in the UK.
Modern slavery in Britain mainly affects immigrants and vulnerable people, often working at car washes, construction sites, hotels, nail bars and farms, according to the anti-slavery body Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
Agencies overseas are offering agricultural work in the UK targeting workers without English language skills. Alongside this, there are UK agencies partnering overseas agencies to source agricultural workers. In the UK individuals are charging seasonal workers up to £50 for work during the flower and vegetable / fruit picking seasons. There is believed to be an element of competition rivalry between individuals, businesses and crime groups involved in this business. Seasonal workers in the agriculture sector are regularly accommodated at caravan parks, with many sites housing a large number of workers.
Field work is invariably not the first choice for workers. Several believe that they would be working in the pack-house when recruited (and for which workers have sometimes paid money to overseas agencies for. Some agencies inform workers that they have to work in fields prior to moving to factory work.
Workers in agriculture can be expected to work 40-60 hour weeks, though some report 15 hour days. Invariably they work seven days consecutively, completing double shifts with insufficient breaks in between. There are workers reportedly living and sleeping in vans which transport them across the UK for days at a time. Many times the driver both working and driving to the next venue.
There have been health and safety concerns at some agricultural sites with serious incidents reported. Not all companies have formal terms and conditions demonstrating compliance under health and safety. Responsibility for managing health and safety of workers is not always a formal agreement. In many cases, pay in this sector breaches National Minimum Wage, particularly if there are deductions for accommodation and / or transport.
How to attract farm workers
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy. Farmers have some of the same challenges as any employer when it comes to hiring people. How do you make the job attractive to the kind of person you want doing it?
There is a deepening shortage of seasonal labour on many farms therefore making it more important than ever for growers and livestock producers to be the employer of choice – and know how to get the best from their employees.
Productive workers allow growers to pay higher wages. Training encourages productivity, but so does incentive pay. Pay must be competitive with other industries that hire workers with similar skills and qualifications.
Building a relationship with each worker can build long-term loyalty. Dealing with problem workers, not allowing abusive behaviour, giving competent feedback and listening to what workers have to say is as important as good pay.
In conclusion, just like in any other sector, agriculture workers look for situations that best balance their financial needs with the other things that are important to them in their lives. To get the edge in hiring, take the time to really understand the things that are important to them outside of work. Follow on from that by finding ways to support them in those areas of interest.
If you are an employer and need some help with employment rights and contracts please get in touch with us.
Send us your enquiry