Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme
One of the most serious challenges in the area of human slavery in England and Wales is the exploitation experienced by seasonal agricultural workers.
The Santa Marta Group under the auspice of the Bishops’ Conference’s International Affairs department is, therefore, establishing in five Dioceses a programme which aims to:
- Identify the areas (parishes) where the phenomenon of slavery exists.
- Create awareness in the church and the local community of the reality of slavery in the agricultural sector.
- Train lay personnel from the local parishes who can welcome, support and advise people who either have experienced or are vulnerable to this form of slavery
- Educate agricultural workers regarding their basic human rights.
- Work in collaboration with local authorities, local agricultural companies, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the local police and local churches to increase the level of awareness of the phenomenon of slavery so that the Church may be better prepared to respond to the needs of victims.
Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of Santa Marta Group, UK, stresses the need for people from across the wider Catholic community to contribute to this important work:
“I would ask for your continued support in identifying – in the areas where slavery is a reality in the agricultural sector – priests, religious and lay people who, with appropriate training, could help in this work.”
Seasonal Agricultural Workers Project
Migrant labour is used in a variety of forms in agriculture. Some agricultural systems e.g. poultry have a steady labour force of migrant labour, who generally stay for a few years. They are supplemented at peak times, Christmas and Easter by casual workers. True seasonal workers come for a period of months e.g. with Hops they will come to the farm in March and be part of the team establishing the crop and will stay for the whole process to harvest in September.
A subset of these workers will come for an extended picking season and will be involved in the crop management up to and including harvest. This is very common in the small fruit, field horticulture and glasshouse industry whereas the plants mature, they will need more attention. A number of workers are often employed after the seasons of fruit picking to prepare the site for the next season. Finally, there are pickers, who literally come and pick. They could be employed for a few days or a few weeks on a casual basis.
There is no pattern as to where the migrant workers come from and the industry they enter. Most are recruited by third parties in Europe on behalf of a farm or farming company. Some of them generally live on-site while others are provided accommodation by the recruiting agent through which they are exploited. Some are recruited as casual labourers and travel to different sites each day. They may also be involved in the processing side e.g. sorting, packing etc. Latest figures indicate that the UK has around eighty thousand (80,000) seasonal workers, of which 70 – 80% are from Eastern Europe.
The following are some indicators of abuses faced by agricultural workers:
- No proper labour contract, paid less than the minimum wage, withholding of wages or excessive wage reductions.
- Work excessive long and unusual hours but a few breaks.
- Withholding of documents e.g. passport and security card.
- Restriction of movement or confinement, e.g. High-security measures exist in the work and/or living locations.
- Dependence on the employer for social services, e.g. NHS.
- Their employer is unable to produce the documents required.
- Debt bondage, working to pay off a debt or loan.
- The threat of or actual physical harm.
- The threat of revealing to authorities an irregular immigration status.
- Poor or non-existent health and safety standards.
- The requirement to pay for tools and food.
- Imposed place of accommodation (and deductions made for it).
- Recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of the work.
Here is a prayer against slavery in the agricultural sector
You created man and woman in your image and likeness, and invited them to share in your love.
You gave them the command to till and to subdue the earth. You call us to welcome the stranger and set free those held in suffering and captivity.
Open our eyes, minds and hearts so that we are better able to see, understand and respond to the slavery experienced by agricultural workers today.
Give us the compassion to provide a warm welcome in our communities, the wisdom to provide the practical support to victims of agricultural exploitation and the courage to speak up for their human rights.
Touch the hearts of all people to assist farmers, to respect and cherish them in sincerity and in truth. Touch the hearts of those who engage in the inhuman trade on human beings to see your image on the farmers who suffer under the yoke of slavery.
Through the examples and intercessions of St Isidore the patron of Farmers and St Josephine Bakhita the patroness of Slaves, grant that all people may respond generously in the promotion and protection of the human dignity of agricultural workers.
We ask this prayer, through Christ our Lord,
St Josephine Bakhita, Pray for us.
St Isidore, the Farmer, Pray for us.