Progress Update from the Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce 

October 23, 2023 11:32 am, Published by , Leave your thoughts

23 October 2023 

Industry trade bodies, retailers, growers, recruiters and non-profits came together in March 2023 to establish the Seasonal Worker Scheme (SWS) Taskforce. The Taskforce’s mission is to “Work collaboratively to develop and implement tangible actions to help safeguard and ensure access to workers’ rights in the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme and wider UK horticulture”. 

The Taskforce set out to do this in two key ways: 

  1. By developing practical actions that can be implemented within current Scheme design to improve the responsible recruitment and employment of seasonal workers; and,   
  1. By engaging relevant Government departments on potential changes to Scheme rules, regulation, oversight and enforcement to address structural issues within the Seasonal Worker visa which may exacerbate worker exploitation risks and undermine efforts to safeguard workers’ rights  

The Taskforce is managed and governed by a multistakeholder Governance Committee, which has focussed significant efforts in 2023 on defining processes and ways of working for the newly formed Taskforce, to ensure activities, and any projects that would require funding, are being prioritised based on salient risks to workers within the Scheme.  

Activities and discussions have been structured across five Taskforce workstreams, which have met regularly to discuss prioritisation of activities that can be delivered within Scheme design, and common policy asks that could help to address more structural concerns. So far in 2023, the workstreams have delivered the following activities and are now prioritising activity for the remainder of 2023 and into the 2024 season.  

Workstream  Progress in 2023 and Next Steps: 
1. Education, information and grievance mechanisms Progress in 2023: This workstream has focussed on a range of activities to improve the education, information and grievance mechanisms available to workers including: 

1. Facilitating feedback on developments to the Just Good Work worker information app, funded out of the autumn 2022 roundtables
2. Monthly Just Good Work insight reports are shared with Taskforce members
3. Drafting of a Serious Incident Escalation Protocol which will now be taken forward at a wider whole food supply chain level by the British Retail Consortium and partner organisations
4. Mapping of existing grievance mechanisms routes and identifying a key funded partnership opportunity with Nottingham University on research to develop a tailored grievance mechanism that can guarantee effective access to remedy for human rights abuses to seasonal migrant workers in the agricultural sector in the UK
5. Discussions identifying the need for more real-time, scheme-wide feedback from workers leading to the drafting of a project concept note for an independent seasonal worker survey 
6. Insights have also been shared from complementary activity delivered by the International Organisation for Migration, with FCDO funding, to pilot Pre-Departure Orientation training in key central Asian sending countries.  

Next steps: Subject to securing funding, the workstream has identified the following priorities between now and end 2024:  
1. Further development to increase scope and adoption of Just Good Work 
2. Development and implementation of an independently operated agricultural worker helpline and grievance mechanism 
3. Development and implementation of an independently run Seasonal Worker Survey to provide real-time, scheme-wide worker feedback.  
2. Due diligence and good practice during recruitment  Progress in 2023

1. Following funding after the autumn 2022 roundtables to develop a common Scheme Operator assessment methodology – the Responsible Recruitment Progress Assessment (RRPA), this workstream has focussed on consultation with members on the draft methodology and regulations and piloting the methodology over the summer with an initial Scheme Operator – Pro-Force. The first assessment included one day in Kyrgyzstan observing a recruitment event and interviewing an objective selection of jobseekers, two days of management systems review at Head Office, and two days interviewing seasonal workers across three UK farms (two small, one large).

2. Workstream members have also regularly shared latest insights being observed during recruitment to share challenges and support scaling of good practices.  

Next steps: 
1. Determining next steps with regards further RRPAs ahead of the 2024 season 
2. Determining other priorities for 2024 including source country due diligence and collating good practice on transparent and effective transfer pathways.  
3. Due diligence and good practice on-farm  Progress in 2023

1. With funding secured after the autumn 2022 roundtables, a series of seven regional and three online grower good practice roadshows were delivered at the start of the 2023 season, with a supporting toolkit. The roadshows reached over 380 delegates from 150 different growers – with 82% of growers feeling very/confident about managing seasonal workers after the workshop compared to 59% before

2. In June, a mid-season webinar was held to follow-up with growers that attended the roadshows and reach new growers to understand progress in implementing good practice and share latest risks and developments.   

Next steps: A proposal has been developed for further grower training at the start of the 2024 season, with a particular focus on a train-the-trainer module for delivering supervisor training on farms. The training is expected to focus on the most salient risks identified through the DEFRA survey results and Taskforce discussions, such as effectiveness of grievance mechanisms, supervisor conduct and accommodation standards. This will be subject to funding.   
4. Improving worker finances Progress in 2023: 
1. This workstream has focussed on discussing tangible activities to help improve worker finances, both in relation to mitigating risks of worker-paid recruitment fees, and activities to maximise retained earnings once on farm
2. Discussions have focussed in particular on the differences between legal requirements and ethical standards in relation to the Employer Pays Principle (EPP) and the feasibility of progressing towards EPP in UK horticulture. These discussions have led to the development of a project proposal for a feasibility study on the Employer Pays Principle in UK horticulture
3. The workstream has also mapped global country comparisons of seasonal agricultural migration scheme rules and how they compare to the ILO Definition of Recruitment Fees and Related Costs, and will be surveying members on current remediation practices in relation to repayment of recruitment fees. The intention is that this research could feed into the proposed feasibility study and engagement with Government on policy relating to worker finances.  

Next steps: Seeking to secure funding for the proposed Employer Pays Principle feasibility study.  
1. Government and industry engagement on practical steps to improve worker finances including in relation to visa costs and supporting workers to reclaim PAYE.  
5. Policy, enforcement and stakeholder communication Progress in 2023: 
1. Workstream 5 has been focused on refining the policy asks from each workstream, determining common priority policy asks across stakeholder groups, and seeking engagement via DEFRA with the Home Office, UKVI and the GLAA 
2. A meeting between the SWS Taskforce and the Home Office, DEFRA and GLAA took place on 3rd October 2023. This was a first meeting to share respective updates and collaboratively discuss opportunities for policy engagement.  

Next steps: Moving into late 2023 and 2024, this workstream will continue to seek regular engagement with relevant Government departments on common policy asks prioritised across the workstreams.   

Supermarkets and other food retailers have so far funded the administration of the Taskforce in 2023, as well as contributing funding to specific projects which came out of the autumn 2022 roundtables, which some Scheme Operators also contributed to.

As the 2024 season approaches, the Taskforce will be seeking to identify funding opportunities from a wider base of stakeholders and funding sources to fund the running of the Taskforce as well as the proposed prioritised project activity.  

The Taskforce is now seeking to appoint an independent consultant to review the progress of the Taskforce so far in 2023 with learnings feeding into 2024 planning and an opportunity to finalise core plans through a Taskforce member roundtable in late November 2024. Full details to follow shortly. Additionally, it is envisaged, subject to funding, that a full, independent impact assessment on the Taskforce will be undertaken in late 2024.  

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