Source: Alamy 

Fruitful Jobs is no longer on the Home Office’s approved recruiter list. Stock image.

Another seasonal worker scheme operator has had its licence suspended – the second such removal of a business from the Home Office’s list of approved recruiters in two months.

Fruitful Jobs, which was renewed as an approved recruiter by the Home Office last June for the 2023 season, is understood to be the business to have had its licence suspended.

Although the Home Office would not comment on individual cases, government data revealed Fruitful Jobs was no longer on its approved list of six seasonal worker recruiters for the fresh produce sector.

The Herefordshire-based business, which was approached for comment, recently warned recruits on its website of illegal activity in some of the countries it operated in.

Those claiming to work with Fruitful Jobs in Nepal were “doing so without our permission”, the business warned, and workers should “not pay any company or individual claiming they can get you a job or visa”.

The statement went on to say Osrodek HR, a Fruitful Jobs recruitment partner, did not have representatives in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, and any person who claimed to be linked with the recruiter was acting “illegally”.

“There have been examples in a number of countries of third parties offering job seekers the chance to work on the scheme and requesting money to register, please do not pay any fees to anyone – if you are unsure, email us to check them out,” it added.

It comes amid growing concerns many workers have been exploited in the seasonal worker system. AG Recruitment had its licence stripped in February, following  controversy over the alleged treatment of migrant workers within the supply chain. There have been warnings some workers are being exploited as far back as last summer.

Unlike AG, Fruitful Jobs is understood not to have had its licence revoked.

Seasonal workers are at risk of abuse. Regulation needs to catch up

But the suspension of a second recruiter could impact the supply of workers ahead of this year’s harvest, warned the NFU and British Growers Association.

“There may be a bit of a question mark” over the ability of recruiters to now bring in enough workers to the UK, suggested BGA CEO Jack Ward.

In his opinion, the change mid-season last year on where workers could be recruited from, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, coupled with the need to cast the net wider for workers as far as Asia, was where AG came “unstuck”, as “with very little warning they had to completely change strategy”.

As a result of the war in Ukraine, recruiters have had to source workers from countries including, Nepal, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.

“We might have quite a lot of permits in limbo both through AG and through Fruitful which should be being used to bring seasonal workers in, so I don’t think it is going to be particularly straightforward this year either despite having an increase in [the number of] permits,” Ward added.

Concerns over the impact this would have on the supply of workers were echoed by Tom Bradshaw, deputy vice president of the NFU.

“This is a crucial time in the recruitment calendar for British growers, and any delays will be a concern to businesses that are getting ready to pick and pack the nation’s fruit, veg, plants and flowers,” he said.

“We must remember that these workers are the backbone of the horticultural sector and many of them are highly professional and have been coming back to the same UK farms for many years,” Bradshaw added. “We are engaging with government to ensure the process is handled fairly and efficiently and that the availability of workers in 2023 is not undermined.”

Labour agencies to face supermarket scrutiny over exploitation claims

Last month, The Migration Advisory Committee announced it would be launching an inquiry into the Seasonal Worker Visa.

“This will include consideration of the rules under which the scheme operates, the size and costs of the scheme, the potential for exploitation and poor labour market practice, evidence from international comparisons and the long-run need for such a scheme,” wrote Professor Brian Bell, chair of MAC in an open letter to the Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Jenrick.

The government announced in December the Seasonal Worker scheme would be expanded to at least 45,000 workers in 2023, with a buffer of 10,000 should it be required. The scheme continues to have six scheme operators, according to Home Office data. These include: Agri-HR, Concordia, Ethero, HOPS Labour Solutions, Pro-Force and RE People.

“All those who benefit directly from migration are responsible for ensuring the immigration system is not abused,” said a Home Office spokesman. “We will always take decisive action if sponsors break the rules.”