Fruitful Jobs has had its seasonal worker recruiter licence reinstated, two-and-a-half months after being suspended amid a Home Office dispute.
The Herefordshire-based recruiter’s licence was suspended on 24 February over a series of administrative issues, including concerns not enough workers hired by the firm had left the UK at the end of their stay.
Fruitful Jobs this week said it now had 400 workers ready to be employed by growers immediately, while visa applications by potential staff that had applied before its suspension were now being processed at “a record rate”.
In a letter from the Home Office, seen by The Grocer, the government department said it had “taken the exceptional decision to reinstate [Fruitful Jobs’] sponsor licence with a B-rating as an alternative to revocation action”.
A key reason for suspending the license was its belief Fruitful Jobs had failed to ensure enough workers returned home on time, which “posed a significant threat to immigration control”, the letter said.
However, this was contested by the recruiter, which cited the impact of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent change in asylum seeker status for some migrant workers.
Government data shows Ukrainians previously accounted for the majority of those working via the scheme.
The Home Office subsequently adjusted the numbers “considering the unique and sensitive circumstances surrounding the conflict” and decreed that revocation of Fruitful’s licence would not be “an appropriate or proportionate response”.
Fruitful Jobs’ B-rating means it will be re-audited in three months, when performance will be measured against a Home Office action plan.
The decision comes amid mounting fears there will be insufficient seasonal workers for this year’s harvest season, and follows growing calls for a major overhaul of the system.
Key concerns include fears some workers are being exploited, while growers say they are not being given enough time to plan and recruit their harvest workforce due to the regular late announcement of the annual scheme’s size and composition by the government.
At the time of Fruitful Jobs’ suspension, British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward said “there may be a bit of a question mark” over the ability to bring in enough workers to the UK. This followed the revocation of fellow agency AG Recruitment’s licence in February.
There are now seven recruiters on the scheme: Agri-HR, Concordia, Ethero, Hops Labour Solutions, Pro-Force, Re People and Fruitful.
It comes as Former G’s Fresh Group boss John Shropshire and lead for the Independent Labour Review for the government said in a House of Lords Horticulture Sector Committee in March that the seasonal worker scheme needed a “major major sort out”.
He added that the current framework for recruiting foreign workers was no longer adequate.
His comments have been echoed by NFU president Minette Batters, who in an interview with The Grocer in April said “there really must be a five-year rolling programme to stop this cliff edge of waiting and having to go through the numbers [every year] before you know how many people you can recruit”.
“How can a business that has to make contractual plans six months previously do it if you have no idea when your workforce is going to be there?”
The Home Office was approached for comment.