Farming minister Mark Spencer tells NFU conference that guaranteeing seasonal labourers at least 32 hours paid work a week is “decent thing to do”
Government farming minister Mark Spencer confirmed changes to conditions for 2023 seasonal worker visas in a speech at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference on Tuesday (21 February).
Addressing the conference in Birmingham earlier this week, Spencer said that an initial 45,000 visas would be granted from 1 April for this season – 15,000 more than last year – and there was a possibility of 10,000 more if needed. He said that guaranteeing 32 hours and the living wage was “the decent thing to do – and I think it is vital that we all stick to it”.
Tom Bradshaw, deputy president of the farmers’ union, welcomed the announcement and said it gave farmers as well as workers coming to Britain “clarity and confidence” in the scheme. But he said any proposal by workers’ representatives for farms or buyers to cover the cost of workers’ travel was “a step too far”.
The Guardian last season revealed that Indonesian workers owed as much as £5,000 to unlicensed foreign brokers when they arrived in Britain, despite having work for only a single season. They found themselves initially on zero-hours contracts, with take-home pay of less than £300 a week.
Labour rights experts told the paper that the new measures should help prevent low earnings in the UK, but that more steps were needed to protect foreign workers from exploitation.
Kate Roberts, the head of policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation, told The Guardian: “The introduction of 32 guaranteed paid hours of work per week would be a positive step forward to reduce risk of destitution and debt on the scheme. Given the reports of workers being left without any work at all after only a short period, this commitment must include targeted enforcement, with clear pathways for reporting issues and accessing compensation if contracts are not respected.”
Adis Sehic, a policy and research officer at the Work Rights Centre, told the Guardian the new 32-hour minimum was a “welcome first step” in reducing the potential for exploitation. He said: “We hope that the government can build on this announcement with other constructive developments, including in relation to streamlining the process for workers to request and obtain transfers, and better standards of accommodation for workers.”