Growers are expecting fresh seasonal worker shortages after one of the government’s key recruitment partners lost its licence.
One of the six approved recruiters for the government’s Seasonal Worker scheme, Kent-based AG Recruitment, had its licence revoked by the Home Office last week in the wake of controversy over the alleged treatment of migrant workers the business had recruited to work on British farms.
AG last year recruited over 1,400 Indonesians to pick fruit in the UK after its regular supply of Ukrainian workers was disrupted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
However, a report by The Guardian in December revealed many of these workers had been forced to ask for diplomatic help over a series of issues last year. Some labourers claimed they had been left with thousands of pounds worth of debts in securing spots at UK farms, while others had complained of a lack of work – issues AG had strenuously denied any involvement in.
But following the loss of the agency’s licence, there are now growing concerns seasonal workers will be displaced or delayed in arriving in the UK, which could impact this year’s harvest.
Daffodil picking had already begun, and the edible season was “only a few weeks away” said British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward.
AG’s loss added more “uncertainty to a sector already dogged [by it]”, he added. AG had a “loyal following”, and “a lot of people [are] thinking ‘what do we do now?’”
The time pressure was echoed by an NFU spokeswoman, who said the news had added to concerns, especially in this “crucial time in the recruitment calendar”.
Affected growers would “need assurance they will be reallocated to another operator, and their recruitment needs filled”, the union added. .In the meantime, they were “encouraged to contact the remaining scheme operators as soon as possible to register their requirements”.
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 loss of AG Recruitment brings the total number of scheme operators to five, but the government has refused to comment on whether AG will be replaced.
“All those who benefit directly from migration are responsible for ensuring the immigration system is not abused,” said a Home Office spokeswoman. “We will always take decisive action if sponsors break the rules. We do not comment on individual cases,” she added.