Source: Alamy

Seasonal worker scheme operator Ethero has had its government licence temporarily suspended, The Grocer understands

Seasonal worker scheme operator Ethero has had its government licence temporarily suspended, The Grocer understands.

The suspension of the Shropshire-based operator means it is currently unable to bring seasonal workers into the country, at a crucial time in the growing season.

Although the Home Office does not comment on individual cases, government data shows only six operators are currently licenced for the scheme: Agri-Hr, Concordia (UK), Fruitful Jobs, HOPS Labour Solutions, Pro-Force and RE People.

The omission of Ethero from that list has prompted concerns over workers gaining access to the country, given that visas sponsored by suspended operators cannot be processed.

“We have a set of published requirements for organisations holding a sponsorship licence,” said a Home Office spokesperson.

“This makes clear those who benefit directly from migration are responsible for ensuring the immigration system is not abused. We will take decisive action if sponsors break the rules.”

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The Association of Labour Providers hit out at the Home Office for failing to adhere to the “fundamental legal principles” of a “fair hearing” when it comes to alleged rule-breaking.

“The Home Office is able to suspend a sponsor licence without having heard its case,” said David Camp, chair of ALP. “ALP’s position is that this is not a reasonable process,” he added.

“A sponsor should have the opportunity to provide evidence and state their case and for the Home Office to review this before a suspension decision is made.”

Last year, operator Fruitful Jobs had its licence suspended for two-and-a-half months 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.

The operator then had its licence reinstated by the Home Office after it decreed that revocation of Fruitful’s licence would not be “an appropriate or proportionate response”. 

Ethero declined to comment when approached this week. 

It comes as the government this week announced an extension to the seasonal worker scheme for five years until 2029. It said 43,000 visas would be available to the horticulture sector in 2025 along with another 2,000 visas for poultry.