Freedom News

Seasonal worker is possible trafficking & slavery victim

The Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) suspects Julia Quecano Casimiro, a seasonal fruit picker from Bolivia, 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 Herefordshire during the 2023 summer. Julia was recruited in Chile alongside other workers as part of the government’s Seasonal Worker Visa scheme, which expanded to Latin America for the first time last year.  

“The fact that the Home Office suspects that a fruit picker recruited under the very Visa Scheme it created was a victim of modern slavery is quite telling. It shows that the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in this country has become so prevalent and extreme that it cannot be denied anymore and that even the most precarious and vulnerable are now seeking justice. 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.”

~ Claire Marcel, Head of Legal at UVW

Julia was part of a group of 88 Latin American seasonal fruit pickers who staged the UK’s first ever strike by workers on seasonal visas over wage theft, discrimination, 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.  

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.  

The fact that the Home Office suspects human trafficking and modern slavery likely 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 objective evidence.

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. 

A conclusive decision on Julia’s case is expected by mid-February.  

Separately, UVW, which has supported Julia from day one, is taking her case to the Employment Tribunal (ET) on grounds of alleged harassment and discrimination. 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. 

“We have received many reports of seasonal workers being subjected to mistreatment, including underpayment of wages, no sick leave, and debt bondage where workers have had to pay high upfront travel, visa and recruitment fees in their home countries. Julia’s case demonstrates that the current scheme creates a serious risk of labour exploitation, trafficking and modern slavery by placing considerable power in the hands of profit-seeking recruitment companies and creating a vulnerable class of workers who may be less willing or able to speak out about poor treatment and exploitation.”

Johanna White, solicitor at ATLEU

Image: Agnieszka Lublin / CC BY 2.0 Deed

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