Freedom News

Seasonal workers wildcat strike, take employer to tribunal

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.

In July, 88 workers at a Haygrove farm in Herefordshire went on strike over health and safety concerns, 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 flight cost they had agreed to reimburse.

Julia Quecaño Casimiro, 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 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 happening. The other foreigners, for example, the Asians and the Nepalese, were with us; they were there listening, and 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 American workers and workers from other countries participated in drawing up their demands. Having received no response the following morning, 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 racial discrimination.

The claim includes allegations of 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, blocked and filling up. The beds were so narrow and the rooms so small that they were joined together, so it was almost like sharing beds. It was a very, very cramped place. The sofas were dirty, 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.”

She commented About the wildcat strike, “They think we are ignorant and don’t have a say. But we know that we are in the 21st century and 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, 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 force 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. 

Image: ACK 1974 / CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed

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