66. It is clear from the evidence we received that
many of the people now working as casual labour in the agricultural
and horticultural industries are coming from abroad. It is important
to note that many of these are working legally. For example, some
come from countries within the European Union and as such are
entitled to work in the United Kingdom. Some of the evidence we
received suggests that even those working legally are often not
aware of their rights under UK law. This has resulted in them
being exploited by unscrupulous gangmasters.
67. There appears to be a particular problem associated
with Portuguese workers in East Anglia. Following a campaign by
a local Citizens Advice Bureau and articles by a Portuguese journalist,
we have been told that Government Ministers from the UK and their
Portuguese counterparts are working on a joint information campaign
to warn Portuguese workers about unscrupulous agents who are recruiting
people to work in the agriculture industry in East Anglia. The
Thetford Citizens Advice Bureau is developing a leaflet in employment
rights and other issues on which foreign workers are seeking advice.
The leaflet will be distributed in job centres and local authority
68. We applaud the work that the Thetford Citizens
Advice Bureau has undertaken to support Portuguese workers who
are facing exploitation by gangmasters. We recommend that in areas
where gang labour is commonly used, local authorities, job centres
and advice agencies form local forums to co-ordinate responses
to ensure that workers, particularly those from abroad, know their
rights. Defra should provide the small amount of funding such
projects would require as part of its rural affairs remit.
69. The other main source of legal foreign labour
for casual work in the agriculture and horticulture industries
is provided through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS).
This is a Home Office scheme under which a certain number of students
from countries outside the European Union are allowed to work
in the UK agriculture industry. The Government's memorandum notes
that the quota of students allowed under the scheme has increased
from 5,500 in 1996 to 18,700 in 2002.
The quota is due to rise to 25,000 this year as part of an expansion
of the scheme.
70. We heard conflicting evidence on SAWS. The NFU
told us that it was "a robust system" and the "students
are well regulated and organised".
Similarly, the TGWU said that there had "not been a high
level of complaint" about the way students are treated under
the scheme. However,
we heard that students under SAWS were being used for skilled
labour which is not allowed under the rules of the scheme.
Also, the evidence from Citizens Advice described how a Russian
student brought to the UK under the scheme had left after four
months "as the working and living conditions were so dreadful".
71. There are also concerns that SAWS students provide
a cheap source of labour which further depresses the price which
is paid for temporary labour. Lord Whitty rejected this argument
pointing out that SAWS students were required to be paid at least
the agricultural minimum wage.
This misses the important point that those who take SAWS students
are not required to pay National Insurance for them. They therefore
offer a cheaper source of labour to, for example, UK-based workers
being paid the agricultural minimum wage. In a market where margins
are very tight this has the potential to create an environment
where those who cannot recruit sufficient workers through SAWS
are at least disinclined to ask too many questions about the National
Insurance and tax status of those provided by other providers
of temporary labour.
72. There appears to be a lack of joined-up thinking
within Government in relation to SAWS. Defra told us that as a
result of the fall in the supply of traditional sources of seasonal
labour in recent years, "the Seasonal Agricultural Workers
Scheme has become an increasingly important source of seasonal
and casual workers for the agricultural and horticultural industries".
In its evidence to the Trade and Industry Committee in July 2000,
the Home Office, which runs the scheme, said that SAWS "was
essentially a youth mobility scheme and is not primarily designed
to meet manpower shortages in the agricultural industry".
Lord Whitty suggested that these two positions are "not necessarily
73. We recognise that the Seasonal Agricultural
Workers Scheme (SAWS) provides a useful source of temporary labour
for the agriculture industry. Similarly, workers from EU countries
who are able to work in the UK help to meet the shortfall between
the demand and supply for casual labour in rural areas. This legal
source of foreign labour is likely to increase with the accession
of the new Member States to the European Union. Nevertheless there
appears to be a lack of co-ordination between Government Departments
in the management of migrant labour. Earlier in the Report, we
recommended that Defra carry out a detailed study into the use
of casual labour in the agricultural and horticultural industries.
This work should assess the demand for foreign workers and be
used to inform decisions about SAWS.
74. If the demand for casual labour in the agricultural
and horticultural industries continues to be met by workers from
abroad because local people are not attracted by the terms and
conditions offered, there may be wider issues for the Government
to consider. Defra has a rural affairs remit. In its assessment
of the temporary labour market, it should consider the implications
for rural services and how these can be best managed. Projects
such as the proposed Gateway scheme in the West Midlands could
make an important contribution to policy in this area. Defra needs
to take a lead on these issues and ensure that it has sufficient
information available to enable it to suggest appropriate policy
responses, including a review of the current system of work permits.