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22.11.2023 / Press releases /

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

  • UVW commences tribunal proceedings against Haygrove Limited for alleged harassment and race discrimination, unlawful deductions of wages and whistleblowing victimisation after raising health and safety issues experienced at a farm in Herefordshire
  • The migrant fruit pickers participated in the UK’s first ever strike by workers on seasonal visas, over wage theft, discrimination and harassment and poor working conditions
  • Haygrove has fruit growing farms in the UK, South Africa and Portugal
  • 2023 saw, for the first time, the recruitment of seasonal workers from Latin America, as the UK government continues to expand its Seasonal Worker Visa scheme
  • UVW believes this is the first legal claim at an Employment Tribunal (ET) by a seasonal worker and the first claim against Haygrove.

United Voices of the World (UVW) commences tribunal proceedings after a group of migrant seasonal workers from Latin America recruited from Chile contacted the union following the first recorded 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 Haygrove.

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.

Julia Quecaño Casimiro (pictured), a Bolivian national residing in Chile who arrived in the UK on 23 July and UVW member who led the strike in July at Haygrove’s farm, said:

“The email came in about repaying the flights and I said ‘no, this can’t be’, I spoke with several of my friends and we all agreed, this cannot be and all the workers held an urgent meeting.”

After plane tickets and accommodation deductions, Julia would have been left with as little as £16 in her pocket and no possibility of saving money to send back home.

Julia continues “They (workers) wanted to know what was going on. The other foreigners, for example, the Asians and the Nepalese, were with us, they were there listening, even though they didn’t understand, they put their online translators on and listened. So we called an emergency meeting and drew up a list of demands.” 

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, including Julia, walked off the job.

After taking part in the strike action Julia was forced to flee the Haygrove farm alongside dozens of other workers over the degrading working conditions and pay. Haygrove has refuted the allegations. With the help of UVW, Julia 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 Julia was verbally promised when she was 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, subjecting Julia to 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, with farms in the UK, 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.

Julia Quecaño Casimiro, Bolivian seasonal migrant worker, strike leader and UVW member who was one of the strike leaders in July at Haygrove’s farm said:

“There was never drinking water, only water to wash our hands for the first week and then it ran out. Fruit picking is a heavy job, the body gets dehydrated, so we need to drink water. There were toilets and showers in the camp where we lived and in the fields but they weren’t hygienic, they were blocked and filling up. The beds were so narrow and the rooms so small that the beds were joined together so it was almost like sharing beds. It was a very, very cramped place. The sofas were dirty and the fridge burnt down and our food rotted. The next fridge froze all our food. I cut my finger once while harvesting and there was no first aid, nothing, no first aid kit.”

About the wildcat strike she commented “They think we are ignorant and that we don’t have a say. But we know that we are in the 21st century and we have information and a way to take this forward. So we said we’re going to continue and we weren’t afraid” 

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.”

According to press reports, “a government spokesperson commenting on the apparent loophole that allows growers like Haygrove to push back start dates once workers arrive on farms” said: “‘The rules are clear that employers cannot withhold wages from workers in this manner.” 

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 2024.

For further information contact the UVW comms team.

Cristina: 07548 759340
Isabel: 07706 987443
Jim: 07749 765264

E-mail: comms@uvwunion.org.uk 

Notes for editors

About Haygrove Limited

About UVW

United Voices of the World is an anti-racist, member-led, direct action, campaigning trade union and we exist to support and empower the most vulnerable groups of precarious, low-paid and predominantly BAME and migrant workers in the UK. We fight the bosses through direct action on the streets and through the courts and demand that all members receive at least the London Living Wage, full pay, sick pay, dignity, equality and respect.

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