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24.01.2024 / News /

UVW migrant seasonal worker could be a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery, Home Office finds in preliminary decision

The Home Office has decided that there are reasonable grounds (RG) to believe Julia Quecano Casimiro, a seasonal fruit picker recruited in Latin America to work at Haygrove farms over the 2023 summer, could be a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery. United Voices of the World (UVW) welcomes the Home Office’s preliminary decision, which suspects Julia was indeed subject to human trafficking and modern slavery, as an indictment of their own visa scheme, which we have been denouncing for long as an abomination. The Seasonal Visa Scheme seems to put people at risk of trafficking and labour exploitation.

UVW and legal charity ATLEU are supporting and representing Julia as she battles the system to obtain justice and compensation for the alleged abuses committed against her. 

The Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) suspects Julia could be a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery because of the circumstances and conditions of her recruitment and employment at a Haygrove farm in Herefordhisre during the 2023 summer. Julia was recruited in Chile alongside other workers as part of the government’s Seasonal Worker Visa scheme, expanded to Latin America for the first time last year.  

Julia was part of a group of 88 Latin American seasonal fruit pickers who staged the UK’s first ever wild strike by workers on seasonal visas, over wage theft, discrimination and harassment and poor working conditions in July 2023. Haygrove, which has fruit growing farms in the UK, South Africa and Portugal, has refuted the allegations.  

Seasonal workers on the scheme, like Julia, are tied to their employer or recruiter and can’t resign and find alternative work legally even if their rights are violated. This is a breach of migrant worker’s most basic freedoms and labour rights akin to mediaeval servitude.

Julia contacted UVW in extremis after fleeing the farm. The union launched legal proceedings against Haygrove and contacted legal charity ATLEU, which organised her referral to the NRM.  The NRM is the Home Office’s system for identifying and recognising victims of trafficking and modern slavery and only accepts referrals from certain certified bodies.  

Julia on why she came to UVW

The fact that the Home Office suspects it’s highly likely human trafficking and modern slavery happened in Julia’s case is very significant as the threshold for making a positive ‘reasonable grounds’ decision has been recently raised by the government, and it’s not purely based on a person’s account but also on objective evidence. A conclusive HO decision on Julia’s case is expected by mid February.  

The UK could be ‘breaching international law’ with the seasonal visa scheme and the Home Office has been found to be failing to investigate ‘clear indicators of forced labour’, according to comments by the UN’s special rapporteur on modern slavery published in the media. 

Separately, UVW, which has supported Julia from day one, is taking her case to the Employment Tribunal (ET) on grounds of alleged harassment and race discrimination, unlawful deductions of wages and whistleblowing victimisation after raising health and safety issues experienced at a farm in Herefordshire. With the metrics of labour abuse and modern slavery being similar there is a lot of overlap with the NRM arguments. The first hearing is scheduled for March 21 2024. 

This RG decision should reinforce our Employment Tribunal claim that Julia was exploited and discriminated against at Haygrove Farms, as the metrics of labour abuse and modern slavery are similar.

In UVW we believe all workers should be subject to the same rights and protections, be free to walk away from mistreatment and be treated as equals, whether seasonal labourers or not, and we will always be by their side in this struggle.

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