A fruit picker from Chile who came to the UK on a seasonal worker visa is taking the farm which employed her to an employment tribunal claiming, ‘unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment.’
The case of Julia Quecaño Casimiro, which has been brought by the United Voices of the World union against Haygrove farm, is expected to be heard in March next year. Ms Casimiro is one of 134 Latin American workers employed by the firm this summer but is the only one taking legal action.
Due to the wet weather, work was delayed for twelve days, during which Haygrove supplied accommodation free of charge and provided workers loans to buy essentials. However, when she did start work, Casimiro told The Guardian, “There was constant shouting at us.” She also claims water was not provided in the orchard and that she and other workers had to travel 90 minutes from their accommodation to one of the farms. “As soon as I started, I saw that it was exploitation,” she told another reporter. “It was modern slavery.”
Issues over a discrepancy in the cost of flight tickets led to an unofficial strike of around 90 of the Latin American workers, although many returned to work after negotiations with the farm. Haygrove says it paid the difference between the ticket face value and what the agent had charged, and also provided loans to workers to cover the costs. It also strongly denies the other allegations.
In a statement the company said it always adhered to Home Office rules, that the 32-hour rule applied to the employment start date and that its seasonal workers averaged a 46-hour week this year. Director Angus Davison, said, “Ms Casimiro’s frustration saw her leave Haygrove without notice, and with a free aeroplane ticket home, after working for us for only 11 days. However, the vast majority of cherry pickers remained with us in August, September and October and saw their hours of work increase to expectations as the weather regularised. We therefore believe that Ms Casimiro’s position is born out of her short-lived, atypical, snapshot experience which coincided with extreme harvesting conditions.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) says that according to a Freedom of Information request which gave it access to Home Office farm inspection reports (none of which relate to Haygrove), ‘Nearly half (44%) of the 845 workers interviewed as part of the inspections raised welfare issues including racism, wage theft and threats of being sent back home.’