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23.11.2023 / News /

UVW union launches legal action against UK fruit farm over exploitation of seasonal Latin American workers 

In November United Voices of the World (UVW) launched tribunal proceedings after a group of migrant seasonal workers from Latin America contacted the union after they staged a wildcat strike by seasonal workers in the UK. UVW believes this is the first legal claim by a seasonal worker at an Employment Tribunal (ET)  and the first claim against agricultural group Haygrove ltd.

Some 88 workers took strike action in July at a Haygrove farm in Herefordshire over health and safety concerns, claims of wage theft, breach of contract, discrimination and appalling conditions. The final straw was when workers realised they would be charged over £400 more than the cost of the flight they had agreed to pay back. After plane tickets and accommodation deductions, some of the workers would have been left with barely no money in their pockets  and no possibility of saving money to send back home. 

UVW is informed that some 130 Latin Americans workers and workers from other countries participated in drawing up their demands. The following morning, having received no response, around 88 workers walked off the job. After taking part in the strike action some of the workers were forced to flee the Haygrove farm over the degrading working conditions and pay. With the help of UVW, one of them has launched legal proceedings over alleged harassment and race discrimination. 

The claim includes allegations breach of contract as Haygrove failed to provide from day one the 42 hours of work some were verbally promised when they were recruited in Chile – leading to the loss of hundreds of pounds; bosses are also accused of threatening to remove shifts as “punishment” for not picking enough fruit; harassment and discrimination including threatening dismissal, exerting excessive pressure, and insults such as “stupid” and “slow”; a lack of health and safety training to prevent accidents, a lack of protective gloves, glasses, boots, or waterproof jacket, and a lack of toilet or drinking water facilities on site. 

Haygrove Fruit Limited company, a major player in the agricultural sector in the UK with farms here, South Africa and Portugal, is participating in a seemingly exploitative scheme that in 2023 saw, for the first time, the recruitment of seasonal workers from Latin America, as the UK government continues to expand the Seasonal Worker Visa scheme.

Petros Elia, UVW general secretary, said: “UVW is the leading union for low-paid, precarious, migrant workers in the UK and we are proud to stand in solidarity with these highly exploited workers, against some of the worst abuses we’ve seen. Haygrove’s recruitment brochure apparently says “our summer barbecues and parties are legendary – we work hard and we play hard!”, which when contrasted with the worker’s reported experiences, speaks volumes of the company’s priorities. The entire seasonal worker scheme is a disgrace which is a gift to the bosses at the expense of even the most basic freedoms most workers have, such as the right to resign and find alternative work, something they can’t legally do even if their rights are being systematically violated. This tribunal claim will hopefully go someway to forcing Haygrove to change its ways and expose the massive shortcomings in the government’s so-called regulations. We call on all workers, seasonal or otherwise, to stand up and fight and never accept being treated as anything but an equal.”

UVW trade union is one of the signatories of the Migrant Workers’ Pledge in collaboration with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) which vows “to advance the rights of undocumented workers.”

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 2024. Watch this space for updates!

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