BBC News Jan 26th 2023: Indonesian former fruit pickers become illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK – ‘This is the easiest shortcut’

(Informal translation from Indonesian language original version)

Indonesian former fruit pickers become illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK – ‘This is the easiest shortcut’

Rohmatin Bonasir, BBC News Indonesia, January 25, 2023

https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/dunia-64329724

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA
Dozens of workers from Indonesia who previously worked on seasonal visas in the British plantation sector as fruit and vegetable pickers have persisted to remain in the UK even though the 2022 harvest season has ended and the six-month visa validity period has also expired.

They tried to get into illegal jobs, for example working in restaurant kitchens or as construction workers at the risk of being arrested by the British authorities. Others try to work officially by applying for asylum.

The Indonesian Embassy in London said “it has not received any information or reports of PMI seeking asylum from the British Government.”

To find out why Indonesian migrant workers (PMI) persist in living in the UK and how they live, I met them.

Stairs leading to a train platform at a south west London station, wet after rain. The day was gray and the sky was covered with clouds, like a winter situation. No sound of trains. Three men punched cards into the entrance machine as they headed for the platform.

Related link to past BBC story: Indonesian migrant workers in the UK: More than 200 people repatriated, some ‘unpaid and have to mortgage houses’ (https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/majalah-63860610)

I heard them conversing in Indonesian. I approached them to inform them that that day there was no train service at all. Train employees launched a strike in the period from late December 2022 to the start of the new year in an effort to raise wages in line with the soaring cost of living.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

At the station that serves trains bound for London Waterloo, I met three PMIs who previously worked on plantations.

“We have been working here for three months. Previously we worked on plantations,” said Bayu, one of them. To protect his identity, his real name is not used in this article.

“How long will you be in England, sir?” ask me. “Wow, I don’t know yet. Until I collect fortune, sis,” he replied.

Bayu and his friends arrived in the UK at the end of July 2022 with seasonal work visas for the plantation sector. The visa is valid for six months and now the validity period has expired.

However, Bayu and his friends did not return to Indonesia. The reason is because the income from working on a new plantation can cover the departure costs, varying from IDR 65 million and even up to IDR 100 million more.

Become a construction worker in England
The income that just reached the break-even point, they said, was due to the delay in the departure schedule from Indonesia so that not long after they arrived in England, the harvest season was almost over. Fruits, such as strawberries, apples and raspberries, are becoming scarcer and this is reducing the income potential of pickers.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Because of the thorny bushes, blackberries are one of the most difficult fruits to pick, according to workers.

Answering BBC News Indonesia’s questions regarding the management of the seasonal worker visa scheme, on Friday (20/01) the British Ministry of Home Affairs, which among other things is in charge of foreign worker affairs, said, “The Seasonal Worker Visa has been in operation for three years and every year improvements are made to prevent exploitation and poor working conditions while the worker is in the UK.”

As for Bayu and his friends, they are faced with a complicated reality, changing the ticket date to return to Indonesia earlier but bearing additional costs and not being able to return their capital. Finally they took the risk of plunging into the black market. And they find opportunities as construction workers.

Same with plantations, employment in buildings before Brexit (Britain left the European Union organization) was filled by workers from eastern European countries. There are no restrictions on the movement of people and goods within the European Union, but once the UK leaves, EU citizens must follow immigration regulations like other citizens if they want to enter the UK.

Not all fruit pickers take the same path as Bayu. The majority of the more than 1,400 people have returned to Indonesia in waves, some with extra money, some still bearing debt, as BBC News Indonesia has reported in a report entitled Indonesian Migrant Workers in the UK: More than 200 people have been sent home, some ‘have not yet paid off their debts and must pawn the house’ .

Bayu and his friends are currently working on house renovations for a gross of £80 per day, about Rp.1.4 million at current exchange rates. If they worked five days a week, the gross wages would be £400 per week or £1,600 per month. This is equivalent to IDR 29 million, an amount that seems fantastic if they work in Indonesia.

But the cost of living in the UK is much higher than in Indonesia, almost 70% more expensive, according to livingcost.org , a site that compares the cost of living in 197 countries.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

The daily fare for underground zones 1-4 in London is set at £11 or around Rp 200,000.

Bayu also has to pay for food, transportation and accommodation. To give you an idea, a takeaway portion of chicken fried rice costs around £6.70 (Rp 125,000). City bus fare £1.65 one way. Minimum room rent £ 100 (Rp 1.8 million) per person per week for rooms used in groups.

A gross wage of £80 per day is not small for an inexperienced construction worker. This is slightly above the UK national average minimum wage of £9.50 per hour. Those with experience receive a minimum of £150 per day.

Bayu admits that his current salary is almost commensurate with the income in the plantation as a fruit picker. In the first and second months, the fruit is still abundant, but from October to November the fruit becomes less, reducing potential income.

The UK Home Office admits that many seasonal workers only arrive in the UK in the middle of the year to harvest winter fruit and vegetables.

“They are entitled to remain employed as long as the visa is valid. Supply companies often transfer workers to other plantations, either at their own request or based on the needs of the plantation, which maximizes the worker’s earning potential and optimizes the duration of the visa which also benefits the plantation.”

But, how can Indonesian citizens work in the UK even though the visa has expired?

I headed to central London to follow three other Indonesian migrant workers. They want to find work. Two people – one girl and one boy – are related. The third person knew them because they had worked on a plantation.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

The Chinatown area in London is the center of Asian culinary delights.

We agreed to meet at a corner in Chinatown, the Chinatown area in the middle of the city. There are many Chinese restaurants, Asian spice shops, cake shops and entertainment centers here. There are also Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean food restaurants.

Chinatown is crowded with visitors. The atmosphere became more lively with the red Chinese New Year lanterns that decorated the streets of Chinatown.Apply for asylum, hand over passport

The three Indonesian citizens (WNI) already have friends at a restaurant and were asked to wait for their boss to arrive. So while waiting, we went to the diner across the street to eat and shelter from the cold outside.

“I don’t want to live and work in England illegally. I want to earn a living for my child legally,” said worker Ana. His name is also pseudonym.

Therefore, Ana took a step that she called “never planned at all” and was a “sacrifice” for the sake of her baby.

Ana provides further explanation: “This is the easiest shortcut, just go through it”.

He applied for asylum. Her application is being processed, and while waiting for the results, Ana is given an application registration card (ARC) as proof of an asylum applicant.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Ana admitted that her move to apply for asylum in England was part of a mother’s sacrifice for her child.

The card contains conditions whether the holder may work or not. If it says ” no work ” or is not allowed to work, the applicant can apply for compensation to the government of £ 40.85 per person per week. Ana accepted the ARC conditional on not being allowed to work but she hastily applied to change the terms.

“Many people insult me by saying I don’t love Indonesia. It’s not a matter of loving my country or not. They are not in my position, they don’t understand what I’m going through,” Ana told me, journalist for BBC News Indonesia, Rohmatin Bonasir. Her eyes looked glassy.

Guidance from the UK Home Office, which oversees immigration, states that the majority of asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their applications are being processed. The reason is, “entering the UK for economic reasons is not the same as seeking asylum, and the two must be distinguished.”

“If time could be turned back, would you regret it?” ask me.

“Yes, sorry. If there is a way home, I want to go back. I did not know that during the interview I would have to hand over my passport. I thought I would just show my passport,” he replied.

The interview in question is an examination at the British Immigration Office to answer crucial questions about the reasons why the applicant is afraid to return to his country of origin so he needs asylum. The applicant brings identity documents, such as a passport and proof of address which are then kept by the Ministry of Home Affairs to process the application.

In the middle of our chat, Ana’s cell phone rings. He was called back to the restaurant because the boss was available to meet him.

I followed them down the busy main street to the restaurant, mingling with the Chinatown crowds in mid-January. Some are busy taking pictures of Chinese New Year decorations. There are those who go in and out of the restaurant. From the window looks full of diners restaurants.

IMAGE SOURCE,BBC NEWS INDONESIA

BBC News Indonesia journalist, Rohmatin Bonasir, met a number of Indonesian citizens in the Chinatown area in London. The restaurants in the area suck up a lot of manpower.

I stopped in front of the restaurant. Ana and two other Indonesian workers pass through a dark painted door. At first glance, there is nothing to distinguish whether they enter as restaurant visitors or job seekers.

Hiring foreigners without official documents is a big risk. If found guilty, the employer or company faces up to five years in prison and fines. Usually the size of the fine is £ 20,000 (about Rp. 370 million) per each illegal worker.

For workers without documents, the risk is also not light. He is threatened with arrest, detention and then deportation to his country of origin, although he will be given the opportunity to defend himself before being deported.

Looking for work, conned by brokers
By taking the subway for about 30 minutes from Chinatown to east London, I met Wawan – not his real name.

IMAGE SOURCE,INDONESIAN BBC

On average, interviewees interviewed by BBC News Indonesia said they were determined to make a living in England because they were already in debt for departure fees.

We talked in a tavern. He was confused thinking about the next step. This is because the work contract on the plantation ended last November and the seasonal work visa expired in early January. The return ticket to Indonesia has been forfeited.

“I worked quite briefly on the plantation because the fruit season was starting to end, while debts were piling up, so now I want to earn more money.

“The problem is that until now I haven’t been able to get a job. The longer I’m unemployed, the less money I have,” he said.

Based on his calculations, Wawan received IDR 90 million in income for about four months of work. However, the departure capital reached IDR 70 million. “So I only get Rp. 20 million, not deducting the cost of food and other needs,” he explained.

As the saying goes, Wawan admits that he was deceived by a broker who promised him a job in a brick factory. £400 (around Rp.7.4 million) has been handed over to the scalpers, but what has happened is false promises.

IMAGE SOURCE,BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Job offers like this circulate a lot among Indonesian workers in the UK.

If before departure to England PMIs had to pay handsomely to agents, in their destination countries they could not be separated from brokers. Even when they were still finishing their contract on the plantation, they were lured by outside jobs that looked tempting.

Brokers ask for payment up front. Even so, some workers admit that their wages are still being deducted every week. Their employers were notified that the deductions were requested directly by the agent.

Wawan worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Gross salary offered £400 per week for 12 hours per day, six working days. On average, this is 50% lower than the UMR provisions in England. But he doesn’t have a bargaining position because he doesn’t have any work documents.

Then he showed me his inn on the corner of a crossroads, not far from where we were talking. Narrow room, mini window. The mattress was on the floor with no pillows, no blankets even though it was -2 degrees Celsius outside.

“This is much better than the room I previously occupied in the cellar,” he said.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Every week that passes without work drains Wawan’s hard work while on the plantation. The biggest component is room rent.

In the basement were rooms with beds and mattresses, cement floors, thick dust covering all surfaces, walls with holes with no protection from cold or sound. A swishing sound could be heard from the washing machine beside the room.

The man over the age of 30 is racking his brain how to still be able to work in England. He exchanged ideas with his friends on Wednesday morning (18/01).

“First, I am struggling to find work abroad, how can I survive in other people’s lands. Second, this is because of undeniable debt demands,” said Wawan.

“So I am still open to all possibilities, as well as asylum,” he added.

With a trembling voice as if she was holding back tears, she added that her older sister in the village needed medical expenses, “I couldn’t bear to let her get sick.”The dilemma of returning home or seeking asylum

Another with Suhada – real name. The man from Cilacap experienced a great dilemma. After the picking season is over, he and some of his friends are still employed to take care of maintenance of equipment and facilities on the plantation.

The new work contract was completed on Tuesday (17/01). His visa expires the next day or Wednesday (18/01) and his ticket shows he has to return to Indonesia on Wednesday night.

But a friend of hers, who had already registered as an asylum seeker, suggested that Suhada follow her lead. The friend had even registered Suhada’s name. He had been due to meet the deadline for the interview at the Immigration Office in Croydon, London on Wednesday.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

The Immigration Office under the British Ministry of Home Affairs serves applications for visas, asylum and other immigration matters.

He doesn’t have the flexibility to make a decision to go home according to schedule or to stay and let his ticket forfeit.

“I’m worried. I’ve bought chocolate snacks for the children,” he said, eight hours before the scheduled flight.

Her two children were waiting at home. So did his biological mother. The three figures appeared many times in his conversation.

“If I apply for asylum, I can work to cover debts,” Suhada told me.

The departure fee reached IDR 65 million, IDR 18 million of which was borrowed from loan sharks, which has now increased to IDR 39 million, he continued.

However, if you apply for asylum, what basis will you use? Unlike Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Iran or Syria, Indonesia is not currently in conflict. Its citizens do not need to flee to other countries to seek protection.

Both Ana, Suhada and Wawan said they had not received in-depth information about asylum. What they envision is looking for an asylum card so they can work legally, without being overshadowed by the fear of being arrested by the authorities.

Related Links to Previous BBC Stories
• Over 200 Indonesian migrant workers in UK sent home – ‘Mortgage house, debt not closed’ (https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/majalah-63860610)
• Indonesian migrant worker in UK: ‘Third fastest fruit picker’, income is huge, but ‘cost to agents is so high’ (https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/articles/c723le5qlgqo)
• Indonesian workers in the UK: Huge costs to go into debt to pick fruit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w9siTRsGLc)

In general, the Indonesian workers I contacted did not seem to have sufficient understanding about asylum applications. This applies to those living in London as well as in other cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

They don’t understand the procedure, what are the implications, including the risk of losing their status as Indonesian citizens and not being able to leave the UK during the process.

The statement from the Indonesian Embassy in London that we received on Tuesday evening (24/01) UK time stated, “In the event that an Indonesian citizen seeks asylum, then according to Law 12/2006 concerning Indonesian Citizenship, the Indonesian citizen will lose Indonesian citizenship, if he obtains another citizenship on of his own accord'”.

They also heard that there were contrived reasons, for example they were advised to admit that they were afraid to go home because they were afraid of being persecuted as LGBT, even though they weren’t.

In general, they know they will receive a card that will allow them to work according to procedures. Usually they are willing to follow suggestions to make confessions that are not true, because they think this is just an administrative requirement. So they make decisions without getting sufficient knowledge or complete information.

On top of all that, a number of Indonesian citizens who were former fruit pickers who were considering asylum were nervous because of the large fees to pay for the services of lawyers to assist with the arrangements. On average, PMI spends £2,500-£3,000 (around IDR 47 million-IDR 56 million). Some lawyers provide convenience through installment payments.

Back to Suhada’s indecisiveness, about 30 minutes after being alone, he picked up his suitcase.

“I want to follow the right path, not go crazy . If, for example, as an Indonesian citizen I have to go home today, I’ll just go home,” said the man who is one of the fastest pickers at his place of work.

IMAGE SOURCE,BBC NEWS INDONESIA

I followed Suhada to the subway station with the aim of Heathrow Airport, London.

I rushed to follow Suhada to Heathrow Airport, London. On the way, I asked Suhada what made him decide to fly to Jakarta as scheduled.

“I’m a hard worker. Hopefully next year I can come back to work on the plantation again. I want to follow the correct procedures,” he said, saying the foreman at the plantation asked him to come back.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Suhada was about to take the subway to Heathrow Airport.

IMAGE SOURCE,ROHMATIN BONASIR/BBC NEWS INDONESIA

Suhada’s colleagues boarded the same plane from London to Jakarta via Muscat, Oman’s capital.

To the Indonesian Embassy in London as the representative of the Indonesian government in the UK, I asked about the phenomenon of PMI finally asking for asylum and the answer was: “The Indonesian Embassy in London has not received any information or reports of PMI requesting asylum from the British Government.

“The application for asylum is a personal wish and the process is closed in the UK. The British authorities have also never conveyed any information to the Indonesian Embassy.”

On Friday (20/01), I visited the Lunar House building, Croydon, which is the central Immigration Office. Maybe because I came too late, there were no long lines of asylum seekers.

However, there was always someone coming, while people took turns coming out of the side door. Within an hour or so, I met two Indonesians. Both are male and have recently attended an asylum application interview. The first man worked in a restaurant in Maidstone, about 50 km from central London. The second person is still looking for vacancies.

The UK Immigration Office makes no guarantees that all applications will be received and does not provide any certainty as to when processing will be completed. Government data shows there were 72,000 asylum applications in the UK in 2022 through September, double the total in 2019.

So, will the visa scheme for season workers from new countries outside the European Union, such as Indonesia, cause new immigration problems due to Brexit?

The British Home Office simply replied, “We don’t usually comment on a case-by-case basis.”

Facts about asylum in the UK
• The applicant submits a passport or other identity document
• The applicant provides reasons for seeking asylum
• The applicant’s confidentiality is maintained
• While waiting for the asylum results, the applicant is given an ARC card
• Cannot leave the UK while waiting for asylum results
• The applicant must return to his country of origin as soon as possible if the application is rejected
Source: British Ministry of Home Affairs


The Indonesian Embassy in London said that as part of its priority is to provide protection for Indonesian citizens, including migrant workers.

“Therefore, in order to avoid immigration violations and legal consequences if they violate them, the Indonesian Embassy continues to provide direction to PMI to return to Indonesia immediately before the expiration of the visa or passport validity period.”

“If PMI’s passport is still valid, no letter of introduction from the Indonesian Embassy is required. However, if the passport validity period has expired, the Indonesian Embassy will issue a Passport-like Travel Letter for PMI to return to Indonesia,” added the statement from the Indonesian Embassy in London.

However, those who wanted to go home said they did not have enough money to buy tickets.

BBC News Indonesia’s small-scale search results found the number of seasonal workers who chose to remain in the UK beyond the validity period of their visa reached tens of people. This amount is collected from several cities, including London, Manchester and Birmingham.

They added to the number of undocumented Indonesian citizens in the UK. Among them are Indonesian citizens who started entering the country before the Covid pandemic under the guise of tourism. There is also a group of domestic workers who were brought by their employers to England from the Gulf countries and then fled.
They work in households, restaurant kitchens, in store warehouses, in buildings. Official data collection is unreachable as long as it doesn’t involve the authorities. But all of them have stories and sufferings that cannot only be seen from a legal perspective but also from a human side.

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Recent stories on challenges of UK seasonal worker scheme (articles from the Guardian (UK) unless stated otherwise) 

1. Immigration: Investors warn food companies about risk of forced labour on UK farms (full version available at https://andyjhall.wordpress.com/2022/12/19/financial-times-uk-19th-dec-2022-immigration-investors-warn-food-companies-about-risk-of-forced-labour-on-uk-farms-includes-links-to-previous-guardian-investigative-stories/) (Financial Times 19th Dec 2022)

2. Investor statement on the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme (Public Investor Statement 19th Dec 2022)

3. Hundreds of Indonesian fruit pickers in UK seek diplomatic help  (2nd Dec 2022)

4. Seasonal worker visa puts migrants at risk of exploitation, say supermarkets (2nd Dec 2022)

5. ‘I’m ashamed’: working in UK leaves fruit pickers from Indonesia in debt (2nd Dec 2022)

6. Seasonal fruit pickers from Nepal left thousands in debt after being sent home early from UK farms (13th Nov 2022)

7. Review of UK seasonal worker visas to increase risk of slavery, experts warn (29th Sept 2022)

8. Indonesians wait on UK farm jobs after paying deposits of up to £2,500 (25th Sept 2022)

9. ‘Our fate is unclear’: Indonesian man who paid £1,000 deposit for UK farm job (25th Sept 2022)

10. Rapid expansion of visa scheme leaves seasonal workers at risk of exploitation (25th Sept 2022)

11. Indonesia to investigate claims fruit pickers in UK seasonal agricultural workers scheme charged thousands to work in Kent (29th Aug 2022)

12. Revealed: Indonesian workers on UK farm ‘at risk of debt bondage’ (14th Aug 2022)

13. ‘My family need my support to eat’: how Indonesians came to work on a Kent farm (14th Aug 2022)

14. Why UK farms are recruiting fruit pickers from 7,000 miles away (14th Aug 2022)

15. UK Migrant Fruit Pickers from Nepal Charged Thousands in Fees to Work on UK Farms, Exclusive BIJ/Guardian Investigation Shows (27th May 2022)

16th Jan 2023: UK government accepts recommendations of critical Chief Inspector’s report on seasonal worker scheme failings

The UK Home Office response to the ICIBI critical report on the UK governments seasonal worker scheme failings was recently issued and is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/response-to-an-inspection-of-the-immigration-system-in-the-agricultural-sector/a-response-to-an-inspection-of-the-immigration-system-as-it-relates-to-the-agricultural-sector

The Home Office has accepted all 3 recommendations of this report on Compliance, Communication and Clarity of Government Responsibilities. The report has a strong critique of the UK government’s seasonal worker scheme failings, its ineffective functioning, lack of accountability and limited worker welfare protection mechanisms. 

See below article summarising the important findings of the report, the report itself and also below additional materials/links related to this issue.

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16th January 2023: https://www.freeths.co.uk/2023/01/16/the-home-office-accepts-recommendations-made-in-the-chief-inspectors-report-on-the-immigration-system-as-it-relates-to-the-agricultural-sector/

The Home Office accepts recommendations made in the Chief Inspector’s report on the immigration system as it relates to the agricultural sector

The agriculture sector relies on the immigration system to provide the labour it requires throughout the year, and particularly during the picking season.

In their recent report, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (‘ICIBI’) recognised that “bringing foreign labour into the industry plays a pivotal role in the UK’s production of food and directly contributes to the country’s food security”. In December 2020, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that UK-born workers made up only 1% of workers in the sector and that recruitment of resident workers was a significant challenge for the sector.

In 2019 the government launched the Seasonal Workers Pilot which has now been extended until 2024. In 2023, 45,000 visas will be available in horticulture, for the picking and harvesting of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Some agricultural roles also fall under the Skilled Worker visa route. Between summer 2019 and 2022, just under 2400 people entered the sector with Skilled Worker visas.

The ICIBI has undertaken a full inspection of the operation of the immigration system as it relates to the agriculture sector and has found significant room for improvement in three key areas: compliance, communication and clarity of roles and responsibilities. The Inspector acknowledged that workers in the sector are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and poor working conditions and as such the government has a heightened responsibility to implement robust protective mechanisms and to support operators who promote good working practices.

On compliance, the ICIBI found that the Home Office needed to raise its game to ensure that scheme operators were operating in accordance with guidance and in a manner which would adequately protect workers. The ICIBI recommended that the Home Office should publish the findings of its own overdue review of the Seasonal Worker route which should focus on identifying training needs for compliance officers, creating clear operating mandates, creating robust actions for operators where guidance is not followed and by ensuring that compliance visits are driven by intelligence.

The Home Office accepted this recommendation and confirmed the review would be completed by April 2023. They also confirmed that they would form a dedicated team to monitor and implement changes to the operational elements of the compliance regime including delivering new guidance, training, developing specialist staff and making better use of intelligence.

During interviews with stakeholders the ICIBI found that communication between the Home Office and stakeholders was less than adequate. Several contributors described communication as being “one-way” with the Home Office delivering information but being unwilling to listen, engage, or effectively collaborate with stakeholders. The Chief Inspector recommended that the Home Office publish a communications and engagement roadmap tailored specifically for the agriculture sector. The Home Office confirmed they would comply with this recommendation and would produce a roadmap by April 2023.

The last key finding of the inspection was that there was a lack of clarity on roles and responsibility within Government in relation to the Seasonal Worker route. The ICIBI recommended that the Home Office produce a reference document to clarify where responsibilities and duties for the Seasonal Worker route fall within government, devolved administrations, and local authorities. The Home Office also accepted this final recommendation, agreeing to prepare the recommended document by July 2023.

The inspection report also highlights what many businesses in the agriculture sector have identified as a key issue for the sector. When announcing the Seasonal Workers Pilot, the government insisted that the scheme would only be temporary and that the sector would have to decrease its reliance on labour from overseas by recruiting from the resident labour market and by automating. Many operators submit that there simply is not an available resident labour force who is willing to undertake work in the sector, either because of work conditions, the often-remote geographical location of work and/or the seasonality of work, and that the government underestimates the efforts which organisations have gone to to recruit locally.

They also argue that automation which would replace sufficient numbers of workers to reduce reliance on a migrant workforce is out of many operators grasp and much further in the future than the government appreciates. The report found that the “general consensus among famers and sector representative organisations was that the mass-adaption of automation was “decades away””. The ‘Automation in horticulture review’ recently stated that a “long-term seasonal workers scheme would help to stabilise workforce pressures in the sector, helping growers to better evaluate their labour needs over time and incentivising long-term capital investments in automation technology”.

As such, while welcoming the changes the Home Office has conceded to make, operators also want to see an increase in the numbers of available visas issued annually, an increase in the length of each visa from six months to at least a year and an assurance that the scheme will be in place beyond 2024. Without these assurances, operators are struggling to plan in the long term and reluctant to invest when the future is uncertain.

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Find copied below link to an article published in December 2023 by The Financial Times (UK) on investor’s response (see also attached and below the original investor statement) to the serious forced labour risks in the UK government’s failing seasonal worker scheme, with the focus on Nepali and Indonesian workers migrating at extortionate cost into the UK agricultural sector. I also include previous stories on this issue below for additional reference. 

Financial Times (UK) 19th December: Immigration: Investors warn food companies about risk of forced labour on UK farms (full version available at https://andyjhall.wordpress.com/2022/12/19/financial-times-uk-19th-dec-2022-immigration-investors-warn-food-companies-about-risk-of-forced-labour-on-uk-farms-includes-links-to-previous-guardian-investigative-stories/)


There is growing concern that the country’s immigration system is exposing migrant workers to abuse 

Oliver Telling, Judith Evans and Oliver Barnes in London

Investors with £800bn in assets have called on food retailers and the UK government to eliminate risks of debt bondage and forced labour on UK farms, as concerns build that the country’s immigration system is exposing migrant workers to abuse. 

Asset managers including Schroders, Sarasin & Partners and Quilter Cheviot have warned that the UK supply chain has become increasingly reliant on labourers from outside the EU since Brexit and the Ukraine war, many of whom are working to pay off debts after being charged excessive recruitment fees by agencies in their home country. Campaigners have also reported unsafe housing, employers threatening workers with deportation, and labourers finding they are effectively unable to leave jobs. 

They are writing to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and other businesses to ask they work with suppliers and ensure these seasonal workers, many of whom come from Asia, are repaid the millions that they are estimated to have collectively spent to secure jobs. There is no suggestion that the companies themselves, which include supermarkets and hospitality groups in which the investors hold shares, are knowingly employing forced labour. 

The warnings are adding to the debate over how the UK should address a deepening farm labour shortage. Tens of millions of pounds’ worth of fresh produce was left to rot in the fields over the summer. 

On Friday, the government said it will increase the number of visas for seasonal workers by 50 per cent to 45,000 in 2023, after businesses called on ministers to help ease the shortage. But campaigners say the poor design and policing of the seasonal worker scheme, launched in 2019, is exposing labourers to mistreatment. 

“You think about the World Cup and all the concerns [over labour abuses] in Qatar,” said Dame Sarah Thornton, the UK’s former anti-slavery commissioner and a consultant to CCLA, the UK’s largest charity fund manager that is spearheading the campaign for businesses to take action. “What we have got here is a risk of forced labour in the UK. We have to make sure our own house is in order if we are going to be criticising other countries.” 

Others to back the campaign include the central finance board of the Methodist Church and the Pension Protection Fund. Asset managers including M&G, Abrdn, Aviva, Lazard, Hermes and Columbia Threadneedle were approached by the CCLA but did not sign on. They each declined to comment. 

CCLA chief executive Peter Hugh Smith said the investor group hoped to push companies to discuss the issue “in the boardroom”. The group, which is writing directly to supermarkets and hospitality companies such as Compass and Whitbread, is also calling on the government to bring the seasonal worker scheme in line with its international commitments on labour rights.

 More than 3,500 of the 26,600 visas issued in the first half of the year went to labourers from Indonesia and Nepal, countries where campaigners say recruitment agencies routinely charge extortionate fees to workers, up from about 500 visas in 2021. 

In total, human rights consultancy Impactt estimates that overseas workers paid at least £35mn to travel and secure temporary jobs in the UK in 2022, with Thornton adding that some have faced debts of up to £5,000. Debt bondage is recognised by the International Labour Organization as an indicator of forced labour, and the charging of recruitment fees is opposed by United Nations principles backed by the UK. 

Lucila Granada, chief executive of non-profit group Focus on Labour Exploitation, said workers have been promised six-month placements but they sometimes arrive too late in the season to secure much work, leaving them struggling to afford accommodation and food. 

Andy Hall, a labour rights campaigner, warned some were being pushed into seeking illegal employment. The effect of the seasonal worker scheme is “completely against” the government’s ambition to clamp down on illegal immigration, he added. 

The Home Office said the department was working to “prevent exploitation and clamp down on poor working conditions”, adding it will “take action” if an offence is reported and proven. It said that private operators licensed by the government to bring seasonal workers into the UK were responsible for “ensuring the welfare of migrant workers, preventing zero hour contracts and managing the recruitment process overseas”. 

The British Retail Consortium, which represents retailers in the country, said businesses “are committed to upholding high standards of welfare”. The organisation said it had driven the creation of several “working groups” with the goal of protecting seasonal workers. 

Compass, the world’s biggest catering hospitality group, said it was committed to eradicating labour exploitation, adding that it investigates and suspends any supplier considered in breach of its policies. Whitbread declined to comment.

https://www.ft.com/content/8c7ce83d-b0e8-47ef-b4aa-51e369eecd58

19th December 2022: Investor statement on the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme

https://www.ccla.co.uk/documents/investor-statement-seasonal-worker-scheme/download?inline (attached PDF version)

We are 10 long-term institutional investors with £806bn assets under management and advisory with investments across UK listed, hospitality and food production. 

Many of the undersigned investors are members of the ‘Find it, Fix it, Prevent it’ and the ‘Votes Against Slavery’ collaborative investor initiatives working to tackle and address Modern Slavery. 

Brexit and the war in Ukraine have resulted in a shortage of low-skilled migrant workers for the UK agricultural sector. We are concerned that migrant workers in the UK, recruited and employed through the government’s Seasonal Worker Scheme (SWS), are being obliged to pay excessive fees to agents and middlemen in addition to other fees, travel and visa costs for crucial, but temporary roles, supporting the UK’s food sector. This results in a high risk of debt bondage, one of the key indicators of forced labour. 

Workers often have to take out loans at high interest rates or sign over assets and property to pay these fees and costs. In addition, some workers have been deceived by promises of multi-year contracts but due to late release of 8,000 visas find themselves with only weeks of work and in substantial debt. This means that there is a debt bondage and high risk of forced labour across the agricultural sector in the United Kingdom. 

These issues could have been foreseen. In early 2022, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton, now advising CCLA, wrote1 to the UK government expressing concern regarding the Seasonal Worker Scheme and reflecting on the much-delayed Seasonal Worker Scheme pilot review, launched on 24 December 2021. She pointed to evidence that a rapidly expanding scheme carried with it increasing risks for workers recruited from further afield and at greater risk of exploitation, particularly in the form of recruitment fees, debt bondage, opaque recruitment and accountability challenges concerning scheme operators and intermediaries. 

As investors and their representa­tives, we are concerned about the ability of our investments to comply with increasing Business and Human Rights and Modern Slavery regulation around the world as well as the growing expectations that businesses adopt responsible purchasing practices and enable Access to Remedy. Moreover, we have concerns about business models that rely on or benefit from modern slavery and/or precarious working conditions. These models are ultimately unsustainable, and risk destroying value in the long term. 

We note that the Employer Pays Principle2, which commits employers to paying the full costs of recruitment, is increasingly being adopted by companies across a range of industry sectors and locations around the globe, including some of the UK supermarkets. 

We are calling on retailers and firms in and directly sourcing from the UK agricultural supply chain to: 
• Undertake an independent investigation on the scale of recruitment fees and related costs that have been made by workers recruited through the Seasonal Worker Scheme. 
• Implement the Employer Pays Principle and ensure ethical or responsible recruitment in their own businesses and supply chains.
• Work with suppliers and all businesses in the UK agricultural supply chain to agree and implement a fair process to repay Seasonal Worker Scheme workers’ recruitment fees and related costs. 
• Encourage the government to bring the Seasonal Worker Scheme in line with international commitments such as Principles for Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains3 and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration4 so as to reduce risks of exploitation and forced labour. 

We understand that the backdrop to these challenges is rising inflation and the cost of living, and that retailers and food producers are focused on limiting rising food prices, which mean all stakeholders are reluctant to pay for the required changes. However, without a well-designed and robust process for the recruitment and employment of seasonal workers the UK food system will continue to be unstable and fragile with a greater likelihood of failure. 

Signatories 
CCLA Investment Management 
Canada Life Asset Management 
Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church 
Epworth Investment Management Ltd 
Evelyn Partners Pension Protection Fund 
PIRC 
Quilter Cheviot 
Sarasin & Partners Schroders 


WANT TO KNOW MORE? Please contact: Martin Buttle 
Better Work Lead martin.buttle@ccla.co.uk 020 7489 6141 

1 See https://www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/news-insights/iasc-raises-concerns-over­labour-exploitation-risk-for-migrant-agricultural-workers 
2 See for example: https://www.ihrb.org/employerpays/the-employer-pays-principle 
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-agrees-principles-for-tackling-modern-slavery­in-supply-chains 

https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/sites/default/files/180711_final_draft_0.pdf 

Recent stories on challenges of UK seasonal worker scheme  

1.    Hundreds of Indonesian fruit pickers in UK seek diplomatic help  (2nd Dec 2022)

2.    Seasonal worker visa puts migrants at risk of exploitation, say supermarkets (2nd Dec 2022)

3.    ‘I’m ashamed’: working in UK leaves fruit pickers from Indonesia in debt (2nd Dec 2022)

4.    Seasonal fruit pickers from Nepal left thousands in debt after being sent home early from UK farms (13th Nov 2022) 

5.     Review of UK seasonal worker visas to increase risk of slavery, experts warn (29th Sept 2022)

6.    Indonesians wait on UK farm jobs after paying deposits of up to £2,500 (25th Sept 2022)

7.    ‘Our fate is unclear’: Indonesian man who paid £1,000 deposit for UK farm job (25th Sept 2022)

8.    Rapid expansion of visa scheme leaves seasonal workers at risk of exploitation (25th Sept 2022)

9.    Indonesia to investigate claims fruit pickers in UK seasonal agricultural workers scheme charged thousands to work in Kent (29th August 2022)

10. Revealed: Indonesian workers on UK farm ‘at risk of debt bondage’ (14th August 2022)

11. ‘My family need my support to eat’: how Indonesians came to work on a Kent farm (14th August 2022)

12. Why UK farms are recruiting fruit pickers from 7,000 miles away (14th August 2022)

13. Why UK Migrant Fruit Pickers from Nepal Charged Thousands in Fees to Work on UK Farms, Exclusive BIJ/Guardian Investigation Shows (27th May 2022)

—-

See also Press release 16th Dec 2022 UK Government provides boost to horticulture industry with certainty over seasonal workers https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-provides-boost-to-horticulture-industry-with-certainty-over-seasonal-workers

45,000 visas for seasonal workers to be available for horticulture businesses next year 

Alongside expanding the number of visas available, *the government will be appointing new scheme operators* to help with the efficient operation of the visa route and *help safeguard worker welfare.* *A new team will also focus on ensuring sponsors are abiding by workers’ rights* by improving training and processes for compliance inspectors and creating clear policies and *guidance for robust action for scheme operators where workers are at risk of exploitation.*

—-

Sat, 1 Jan 2022
Seasonal workers pilot review 2019 released (buried?!?) on Christmas Eve, showing prevalent/systemic migrant worker abuse but apparently no ‘modern slavery’

Find below the UK Seasonal workers pilot scheme review 2019 that was released (buried news wise) on Christmas Eve at 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/seasonal-workers-pilot-review/seasonal-workers-pilot-review-2019

Despite us now being in 2022, this was the review of 2019 when there were only 2500 workers in the scheme. The number has since increased to 30,000 in 2021. Taken 2 years to release these limited figures and this review, and then on Christmas Eve of all days. 

Figures reported for abuse are disappointingly high and response rate of 26% very low. No instances of modern slavery were uncovered at all, but then again, most workers were not even covered/visited in the research. 

Of the 2500 workers, only 26% responded to the survey, which is low.  22% of that total who report being treated unfairly is unacceptably high. 22% of workers report facing abuse is a serious issue. Also substandard housing, workers not getting contracts in a language they understand. Workers not being told at the pre-departure stage prior to migrating the actual conditions of work and accommodation. 

16th Jan 2023: New Malaysian PM could mean good news for Bangladeshi workers

New Malaysian PM could mean good news for Bangladeshi workers

https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/views/news/new-malaysian-pm-could-mean-good-news-bangladeshi-workers-3221631

K Parkaran

Unfortunately, we have heard of far too many setbacks involving Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia. Photo: Star

With the ascension of Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister of Malaysia, after 24 years of battling forces in Malaysian politics that were hellbent on depriving him of this moment, there appears to be a wind of change in the country.

No one knows how much this will impact current bilateral and trade ties between Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka, which have not been that great but fairly acceptable so far. Bangladesh will celebrate its 52nd year as an independent nation this year, meaning Dhaka has remained an all-weather friend and ally to Kuala Lumpur for almost half a century. This year will also mark 51 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, since Malaysia recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign nation in 1972.

However, these are all seen on the glossy surface while deep inside, the protection of Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia has been a nagging concern of international human rights watchdogs.

Right now, the newly minted Malaysian prime minister is focusing on ties with his immediate neighbours. Anwar flew to Jakarta last week on his first official visit abroad, and he is scheduled to visit Singapore and Brunei at the end of this month.

Syndicates in migration: Re-accessing the Malaysian labour market

Read more

His strong statement in Jakarta could be an indicator of how the largest issue between Malaysia and Bangladesh – euphemistically called labour mobility – is going to pan out. He announced that Malaysia and Indonesia have both agreed to further strengthen the protection of migrant workers, who number more than a million at the moment.

Admitting that there were some issues that have hurt the feelings of the Indonesian people as well as their government, he said the solution must be more comprehensive so that workers will be protected.

Anwar added that both sides would ensure that employment agencies do not make a high profit by exploiting migrant workers. Now, this is indeed a very serious issue affecting workers from Bangladesh, with lots of abuses involving agents in both countries.

The hurt feelings he spoke about are an open secret. Serious abuses of domestic workers in the past in Malaysia, though not rampant, had been the bane of the ties between the two neighbours. In addition, cases of non-payment of wages have compounded the problem.

Now that Anwar seems to be prioritising this human aspect by making it his first announcement, Bangladesh too should visit him or invite him to Dhaka, since among the estimated four million foreign workers in Malaysia, a quarter or more of them are Bangladeshis.

It is obviously time to revisit the five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the intake of foreign workers that was signed by the two countries in 2021 to improve protection.

Unfortunately, we have heard of far too many setbacks involving Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia. These include poor working conditions, unacceptable living environments, non-payment of wages and being treated without dignity. According to the definition of the International Labour Organisation, the companies involved with these are guilty of forced labour.

There were cases of many Bangladeshis who reach Malaysian shores by using their hard-earned savings and even mortgaging their properties, with high hopes of returning with better fortunes. Some of them then ended up as victims of human trafficking syndicates and unscrupulous recruitment agents.

There have been positive changes in this area over the last several years, thanks to international human rights group and activists exposing many employers, including multibillion-dollar companies, which led to the US Customs Border Protection Agency to ban products from some of these firms.

This resulted in a number of them rectifying their mistakes and treating Bangladeshi and other foreign workers with a semblance of dignity. These firms were them taken off the list, although a few recalcitrant ones are still on the blacklist.

However, both countries need to do more. An international watchdog has claimed, as recently as a few weeks ago, that the inflow of foreign workers from Bangladesh to Malaysia is still being monopolised by two power brokers. This is despite the MoU that gave permission to 25 agencies to recruit workers.

Labour Recruitment to Malaysia: Time to break the never-ending cycle

Read more

Calls are growing for a system that no longer limits the number of recruitment agencies and ends the involvement of the two “cartels” that rake in billions annually from forced labour and exploitation. There are also allegations of human trafficking syndicates that cause the misery of thousands of Bangladeshi migrants, as well as of corruption in the recruitment system that has lined the pockets of government officials of both countries.

Hence, it is of utmost importance that Bangladesh plays its role as a responsible source country by preventing its agencies from exploiting their citizens even before they leave for Malaysia. The blood, sweat and toil, in addition to their sacrifices of being oceans away from their loved ones, should not be in vain. They must be protected.

With Anwar’s announced stand on inhumane treatment and abuse of foreign workers, it would be timely for the Bangladeshi government to capitalise on this, and his intent to protect its citizens working in Malaysia for a meagre monthly salary of RM1,500.

But it has to be a two-way action. Both Malaysia and Bangladesh need to jointly tackle this issue to weed out the flesh trade, so to speak.

K Parkaran is a freelance journalist in Kuala Lumpur, and currently a columnist with Malaysia’s leading news portal FreeMalaysiaToday (FMT).

14th Jan 2023 (Bangladeshi Media): Flight tickets from Bangladesh to Malaysia are almost triple the price as workers migrate under alleged syndicate processes

(Google Translate) Flight tickets from Bangladesh to Malaysia are almost triple the price as workers migrate under alleged syndicate – 50,000 workers have migrated since the opening of the labor market – Monir Hossain 14 January 2023

https://www.dailynayadiganta.com/first-page/720190/%E0%A6%AE%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%B2%E0%A7%9F%E0%A7%87%E0%A6%B6%E0%A6%BF%E0%A7%9F%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%97%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%AE%E0%A7%80-%E0%A6%AC%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%AE%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%A8-%E0%A6%9F%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%95%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%9F-%E0%A6%A4%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%A8%E0%A6%97%E0%A7%81%E0%A6%A3-%E0%A6%A6%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%AE%E0%A7%87%E0%A6%93-%E0%A6%AE%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%B2%E0%A6%9B%E0%A7%87-%E0%A6%A8%E0%A6%BE

After the syndicate in the labor market of Malaysia, it has been alleged that the syndicate has stopped the sale of plane tickets.  As a result, the price of a one-way ticket on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route is almost three times higher than the fixed price.  Not only the increase in ticket prices, the owners of the travel agencies have informed that there are no vacant seats in the flights of any airlines operating on the Dhaka-Malaysia route in the next 15 days.

Those involved in the immigration business believe the airline ticket crisis is slowing the flow of workers into the country.  Still, after workers started going to Malaysia again, more than 50,000 workers left Dhaka for employment purposes through various recruiting agencies until December 31 last year.  Among them, 21,000 workers left in the month of December.  After Friday evening, Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) Secretary General Abdus Salam Aref told Naya Digant about the ticket crisis for Malaysians, that the price of a one-way ticket from Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur was Tk 30,000.  The price of that ticket cannot be bought even with 70 thousand rupees.  Not only that, he also said that there are no tickets on this route for the next 15 days.

 He said there is pressure due to passenger demand.  However, the relevant department of our government can find out why the price of a ticket is increasing like this.  Last year (2022) there was a lot of drama between the agency owners of the two countries about whether the workers will go to the Malaysian labor market through syndicate or open for all (everyone).  Finally, ending speculation, the MoU agreement and the official announcement of the opening of the labor market through a syndicate consisting of 25 recruiting agencies identified as per the wishes of the Malaysian government.  Although the labor market was opened through the syndicate formed by 25 agencies with Dato Amin Nur Gong, the required workers could not leave Bangladesh on time.  Because of the syndicate’s extra charges.  Before that, Malaysian hiring companies took workers from neighboring countries such as Nepal, Philippines and other source countries to solve their labor crisis.  As a result, the rate of departure of workers from Bangladesh has been relatively low, said those associated with the manpower business.  However, the Malaysian government recently allowed 50 more agencies to work with 25 syndicates.  Later under pressure added the names of 25 more agencies and finally approved a total of 100 agencies.  Rumor has it that hundreds of crores of rupees have been invested illegally (hundi) behind these syndicates.  And because of the syndicate in the labor market, it is alleged that the workers have to spend five times more than the 80,000 taka set by the government from the country to go to Malaysia.

 In this context, the owners of general recruiting agencies say that they have to pay more money to send workers due to various reasons, apart from the money of Dato Amin’s system in Malaysia, the sky-high price of plane tickets, the additional cost of medical examination and BMET.  Now the situation has become such that the one-way ticket price of Biman was 30 thousand taka, now they have to buy it for 70 thousand taka.  Not available either.  Still, due to the expiry of the visa, the workers are being given flights within the stipulated time by buying tickets at higher prices.

 After Friday evening, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Shafiul Azim told Naya Digant that the demand for Dhaka Malaysia route flights is now high.  Due to increasing demand, 3 additional flights are being operated with Boeing-777 in addition to the regular flights (Boeing-737).  In response to a question, he said, today it is only one month since I joined the post of MD of Biman.  In the meantime I see the overall affairs of Biman moving positively.  Where there are problems, I fix them by sitting with both parties.  As a result, there has been no problem so far.  Regarding the Canada flight, MD said, I am getting a very good response.  Still some negative news is being published about us in some media.  Which makes the mind sad.  He commented that I am losing my passion for work, which is not desirable at all.

Yesterday, a person in charge of marketing and sales of Biman Bangladesh Airlines told Naya Digant, currently, besides Biman Bangladesh Airlines, US Bangla, Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia, Malindo Air are running regular flights.  In this, Biman has one flight every day with Boeing-737.  When asked why the price of tickets tripled, the official said, there is a crisis of tickets due to the demand of workers, students and other professions in Malaysia.  For this we have already decided to operate three additional flights in addition to regular flights, which will run on January 15, January 22 and February 3.  These flights will be operated by Boeing-777.  Its seat capacity is 419.  In response to a question, he said, we have opened the ticket system for these flights.  Buyers are getting 2 hours.  Although the tickets are gone within 5 minutes of opening.  His idea is that agencies are cutting tickets as soon as they are submitted to the ticketing system.  He said, I can say with a challenge that no seat is being blocked on any Malaysia-bound flight.  Everything is open.

 A member of Atab said last night that air tickets, like the Malaysian labor market, have also fallen under the grip of syndicates.  Due to which the agencies are forced to buy tickets for three times the fixed price for sending workers.  Not only Biman Bangladesh Airlines, other airlines also have the same situation.  Those concerned, including expatriate Bangladeshis, think that after investigating this matter, action should be taken against those involved in some syndicates.  Otherwise, the cost of immigration to Malaysia, especially for workers, will continue to increase.

(Original Article) মালয়েশিয়াগামী বিমান টিকিট তিনগুণ দামেও মিলছে না

শ্রমবাজার চালুর পর ৫০ হাজার শ্রমিক পাড়ি জমিয়েছে

মনির হোসেন  ১৪ জানুয়ারি ২০২৩, ০০:০৫, আপডেট: ১৪ জানুয়ারি ২০২৩, ০৬:৩৪

মালয়েশিয়ার শ্রমবাজারে সিন্ডিকেটের পর এবার বিমানের টিকিট বিক্রিতেও সিন্ডিকেটের থাবা পড়েছে বলে অভিযোগ উঠেছে। যার ফলেঢাকা-কুয়ালালামপুর রুটের ওয়ানওয়ে একটি টিকিটের মূল্য নির্ধারিত দামের প্রায় তিনগুণ বেশি দিয়েও মিলছে না। শুধু টিকিটের দামবৃদ্ধি নয়, আগামী ১৫ দিনে ঢাকা-মালয়েশিয়া রুটে চলাচলকারী কোনো এয়ারলাইন্সের ফ্লাইটেই আসন খালি নেই বলে ট্র্যাভেলএজেন্সিগুলোর মালিকরা জানিয়ে দিয়েছেন।

বিমানের টিকিট সঙ্কটের কারণে দেশটিতে শ্রমিক যাওয়ার গতি কমছে বলে মনে করছেন অভিবাসন ব্যবসার সাথে সম্পৃক্তরা। তারপরওনতুন করে মালয়েশিয়ায় শ্রমিক যাওয়া শুরু হওয়ার পর গত বছরের ৩১ ডিসেম্বর পর্যন্ত কর্মসংস্থানের উদ্দেশ্য বিভিন্ন রিক্রুটিং এজেন্সিরমাধ্যমে ৫০ হাজারেরও বেশি শ্রমিক ঢাকা ত্যাগ করেছেন। এর মধ্যে ডিসেম্বর মাসেই গিয়েছে পৌনে ২১ হাজার শ্রমিক। গতকাল শুক্রবারসন্ধ্যার পর অ্যাসোসিয়েশন অব ট্র্যাভেল এজেন্টস অব বাংলাদেশের (আটাব) মহাসচিব আবদুস সালাম আরেফ নয়া দিগন্তকেমালয়েশিয়াগামীদের টিকিট সঙ্কট থাকা প্রসঙ্গে বলেন, ঢাকা-কুয়ালালামপুরগামী ওয়ানওয়ে একটি টিকিটের দাম যেখানে ৩০ হাজারটাকা ছিল। সেই টিকিটের দামই এখন ৭০ হাজার টাকা দিয়েও কেনা যাচ্ছে না। শুধু তাই নয়, আগামী ১৫ দিন পর্যন্ত এই রুটে কোনোটিকিট নেই বলেও জানান তিনি।

তিনি বলেন, যাত্রীর চাহিদার কারণে চাপ আছে। তবে একটা টিকিটের দাম এভাবে কি কারণে বাড়ছে সেটা আমাদের সরকারের সংশ্লিষ্টদফতর খতিয়ে দেখতে পারেন। গত বছর (২০২২) সিন্ডিকেটের মাধ্যমে খুলবে নাকি ওপেন ফর অল (সবাই) মালয়েশিয়ার শ্রমবাজারেশ্রমিক যাবে এ নিয়ে দুই দেশের এজেন্সি মালিকদের নিয়ে চলে অনেক নাটকীয়তা। অবশেষে জল্পনার অবসান ঘটিয়ে এমওইউ চুক্তি ওমালয়েশিয়া সরকারের ইচ্ছানুযায়ী চিহ্নিত ২৫ রিক্রুটিং এজেন্সির সমন্বয়েই গঠিত সিন্ডিকেটের মাধ্যমে শ্রমবাজার উন্মুক্তের আনুষ্ঠানিকঘোষণা আসে। দাতো আমিন নুর গংদের নিয়ে ২৫ এজেন্সির গঠিত ওই সিন্ডিকেটের মাধ্যমে শ্রমবাজার উন্মুুক্ত হলেও যথাসময়েকাক্সিক্ষত শ্রমিক বাংলাদেশ থেকে যেতে পারেনি। কারণ সিন্ডিকেটের অতিরিক্ত চার্জ। তার আগেই মালয়েশিয়ার নিয়োগকারীকোম্পানিগুলো তাদের শ্রমিক সঙ্কট কাটাতে পার্শ্ববর্তী দেশ নেপাল, ফিলিপাইনসহ অন্যান্য সোর্স কান্ট্রিভুক্ত দেশ থেকে কর্মী নিয়ে ফেলে।ফলে বাংলাদেশ থেকে শ্রমিক যাওয়ার হার তুলনামূলক অনেক কম গেছে বলে জনশক্তি ব্যবসার সাথে সম্পৃক্তরা জানিয়েছেন। এরপরওমালয়েশিয়া সরকার ২৫ সিন্ডিকেটের সাথে সম্প্রতি আরো ৫০টি এজেন্সিকে কাজ করার সুযোগ করে দেয়। পরবর্তীতে চাপে পড়ে আরো২৫টি এজেন্সির নাম যুক্ত করে মোট ১০০টি এজেন্সিকে চূড়ান্তভাবে অনুমোদন দেয়। এসব সিন্ডিকেট করার পেছনে শত শত কোটি টাকাঅবৈধ উপায়ে (হুন্ডি) বিনিয়োগ হয়েছে বলে জনশ্রুতি রয়েছে। আর শ্রমবাজারে সিন্ডিকেট হওয়ার কারণে দেশ থেকে সরকার নির্ধারিত৮০ হাজার টাকার বিপরীতে পাঁচ গুণ অতিরিক্ত টাকা খরচ করেই শ্রমিকদের মালয়েশিয়ায় যেতে হচ্ছে বলে অভিযোগ রয়েছে।

এসব প্রসঙ্গে সাধারণ রিক্রুটিং এজেন্সির মালিকরা বলছেন, মালয়েশিয়ার দাতো আমিনের সিস্টেমের টাকা, বিমানের টিকিটের দামআকাশচুম্বী, মেডিক্যাল পরীক্ষা ও বিএমইটির অতিরিক্ত খরচ ছাড়াও নানা কারণে তাদেরকে বেশি টাকা দিয়েই শ্রমিক পাঠানোর কাজসারতে হচ্ছে। এখন পরিস্থিতি এমন হয়েছে বিমানের যে ওয়ানওয়ে টিকিটের দাম আগে ৩০ হাজার টাকা ছিল সেটি এখন তাদেরকেকিনতে হচ্ছে ৭০ হাজার টাকা দিয়ে। তাও পাওয়া যাচ্ছে না। তারপরও ভিসার মেয়াদ শেষ হওয়ার কারণে বেশি দামে টিকিট কিনেইশ্রমিকদের নির্ধারিত সময়ের মধ্যে ফ্লাইট দেয়া হচ্ছে।

গতকাল শুক্রবার সন্ধ্যার পর বিমান বাংলাদেশ এয়ারলাইন্সের ব্যবস্থাপনা পরিচালক ও প্রধান নির্বাহী কর্মকর্তা শফিউল আজিম নয়াদিগন্তকে বলেন, ঢাকা মালয়েশিয়া রুটের ফ্লাইটগুলোতে এখন ডিমান্ড বেশি। চাহিদা বাড়ার কারণে নিয়মিত ফ্লাইটের বোয়িং-৭৩৭) পাশাপাশি বোয়িং-৭৭৭ দিয়ে অতিরিক্ত আরো ৩টি ফ্লাইট পরিচালনা করা হচ্ছে। এক প্রশ্নের উত্তরে তিনি বলেন, আমার বিমানেরএমডি পদে যোগদানের আজ এক মাস হলো মাত্র। এরই মধ্যে আমি বিমানের সার্বিক বিষয়গুলো দেখছি পজিটিভলিই এগোচ্ছে। যেখানেসমস্যা আছে সেগুলো উভয়পক্ষকে নিয়ে বসে আমি ঠিক করে দিচ্ছি। যার ফলে এখন পর্যন্ত কোনো সমস্যা হয়নি। কানাডা ফ্লাইটেরব্যাপারে এমডি বলেন, খুব ভালো সাড়া পাচ্ছি। তারপরও কিছু মিডিয়ায় আমাদের নিয়ে কিছু নেগেটিভ সংবাদ প্রকাশ হচ্ছে। যা দেখেমনটা খারাপ হয়ে যায়। কাজের স্পৃহা হারিয়ে ফেলছি, যা মোটেও কাম্য নয় বলে তিনি মন্তব্য করেন। 

গতকাল বিমান বাংলাদেশ এয়ারলাইন্সের মার্কেটিং অ্যান্ড সেলসের একজন দায়িত্বশীল নয়া দিগন্তকে বলেন, বর্তমানে বিমানবাংলাদেশ এয়ারলাইন্স ছাড়াও ইউএস বাংলা, মালয়েশিয়ান এয়ারলাইন্স, এয়ার এশিয়া, মালিন্দো এয়ার নিয়মিত ফ্লাইট চালাচ্ছে। এরমধ্যে বিমানের প্রতিদিন বোয়িং-৭৩৭ দিয়ে একটি করে ফ্লাইট চলছে। টিকিটের দাম তিন গুণ কেন জানতে চাইলে ওই কর্মকর্তা বলেন, মালয়েশিয়ায় শ্রমিক, স্টুডেন্টসহ অন্যান্য পেশার লোকজনের চাহিদা থাকায় টিকিটের সঙ্কট দেখা দিয়েছে। এর জন্য আমরা ইতোমধ্যেনিয়মিত ফ্লাইটের পাশাপাশি অতিরিক্ত আরো তিনটি ফ্লাইট চালানোর সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়েছি, যা ১৫ জানুয়ারি, ২২ জানুয়ারি ও ৩ ফেব্রুয়ারিচলবে। এসব ফ্লাইট বোয়িং-৭৭৭ দিয়ে চালাব। এর সিট ক্যাপাসিটি ৪১৯। এক প্রশ্নের উত্তরে তিনি বলেন, এসব ফ্লাইটের টিকিট সিস্টেমআমরা ওপেন করে দিয়েছি। ক্রেতারা সময় পাচ্ছেন ২ ঘণ্টা। যদিও ওপেন করার ৫ মিনিটের মধ্যে টিকিট নাই হয়ে যাচ্ছে। তার ধারণাটিকিট সিস্টেমে দেয়ার সাথে সাথে এজেন্সিগুলো টিকিট কেটে ফেলছে। তিনি বলেন, আমি চ্যালেঞ্জ দিয়ে বলতে পারি, মালয়েশিয়াগামীবিমানের কোনো ফ্লাইটের সিট ব্লক করা হচ্ছে না। সবকিছুই ওপেন।

গত রাতে আটাবের একজন সদস্য বলেন, মালয়েশিয়ার শ্রমবাজারের মতো বিমানের টিকিটও সিন্ডিকেটের কবলে পড়েছে। যার কারণেশ্রমিক পাঠানোর জন্য নির্ধারিত দামের তিন গুণ টাকায় টিকিট কিনতে বাধ্য হচ্ছে এজেন্সিগুলো। শুধু বিমান বাংলাদেশ এয়ারলাইন্সনয়, অন্যান্য এয়ারলাইন্সেরও একই অবস্থা। এ বিষয়ে তদন্ত করে কতিপয় সিন্ডিকেটের সাথে জড়িতদের বিরুদ্ধে দ্রুত ব্যবস্থা নেয়া উচিতবলে মনে করছেন প্রবাসী বাংলাদেশীসহ সংশ্লিষ্টরা। নতুবা মালয়েশিয়াগামী বিশেষ করে শ্রমিকদের অভিবাসন ব্যয় প্রতিনিয়ত বাড়তেইথাকবে।

See also as background…. 

MALAYSIA

‘Bangladeshi/Malaysia recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ 

Govt now acting on billion-ringgit ‘human trafficking syndicates’

Published on 10 Jan 2023 4:00PM

https://www.thevibes.com/articles/news/82363/bangladeshi-recruitment-cartels-grip-must-end

10th Jan 2023: Malaysia to open door to more low skilled migrants, but will the systemic corruption and impunity of unethical recruitment actors be addressed too?

Malaysia apparently to open the door to more low skilled migrant workers for its labour starved industries/economy. But will the new administration in Putrajaya finally crack down on the too often corrupt and ruthless Malaysia based manpower agents, HR managers as well as other third party actors that currently ensure migrant workers coming into the country are extorted with the highest recruitment related fees and costs ever seen, and that continues to result in debt bondage and hence systemic forced labour? Let’s hope so too

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2023/01/10/pm-anwar-putrajaya-eases-rules-on-the-hiring-of-foreign-workers/49411

MALAYSIA

PM Anwar: Putrajaya eases rules on the hiring of foreign workers

PM Anwar: Putrajaya eases rules on the hiring of foreign workers

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim chairs a meeting to discuss the new Plan to Facilitate the Hiring of Foreign Workers, in Kuala Lumpur January 10, 2023. — Bernama pic

By R. Loheswar

Tuesday, 10 Jan 2023 2:54 PM MYT

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Putrajaya has decided to ease hiring rules for foreign workers in Malaysia by doing away with existing preconditions while allowing recruiting to be conducted on an as-needed basis.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the new Pelan Kelonggaran Penggajian Pekerja Asing (PKPPA), or Plan to Facilitate the Hiring of Foreign Workers, will allow employers to hire foreign labour from 15 countries based on what they can afford and need without the constraints of any preconditions or quotas.

“Secondly, a series of working visits by a Malaysian delegation will be organised to source countries to discuss matters related to the safety and wellbeing of foreign workers in Malaysia,” Anwar said in a statement after chairing a meeting on the matter with the relevant ministries and agencies today.

“It is estimated the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) will increase by 1 per cent if we can speed up the hiring of foreign workers to meet the needs of relevant sectors.

“Thirdly, the meeting agreed to implement the Illegal Immigrant Recalibration Plan 2.0 (IIRP) specifically for the Manpower Recalibration Programme (MRP) until December 2023.

“Under the previous programme, which was until December 31, 2022, 418,649 foreign workers were registered for work, while another 295,425 were registered under the Return Recalibration programme.

“The main difference of IIRP 2.0 is that the conditions are more flexible without ignoring the issue of safety within country.”

Anwar said these plans, while not permanent, were “unprecedented” in nature to meet the country’s economic development needs.

The Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry will spearhead the plans and Anwar said the former will make further announcements on the issue in the future.

Malaysia has been experiencing a foreign labour shortage for nearly two years.

On November 16, 2020, the government launched the Illegal Immigrant Recalibration Plan, implemented by the Immigration Department in collaboration with the Peninsular Malaysia Labour Department (JTKSM) and other government agencies, without the involvement of vendors or third parties.

It was to regularise undocumented migrants in the country as foreign workers, who could be employed by eligible employers subject to stringent conditions determined by the government.

The Return Recalibration programme is a government initiative to provide an opportunity for immigrants who have overstayed and are in Malaysia without a valid pass, to voluntarily return to their country of origin.

However, the entry of new labour has been slow, with many industry players complaining about alleged third-party involvement and extra fees incurred by them and their potential employees.

10th Jan 2023: ‘Bangladeshi/Malaysia recruitment cartels’ grip must end’

https://www.thevibes.com/articles/news/82363/bangladeshi-recruitment-cartels-grip-must-end

MALAYSIA

‘Bangladeshi/Malaysia recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ 

Govt now acting on billion-ringgit ‘human trafficking syndicates’

Published on 10 Jan 2023 4:00PM

‘Bangladeshi recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ 

Calls are growing for an open system that no longer limits the number of Bangladeshi recruitment agencies, with stakeholders urging the government to end the involvement of the two ‘cartels’ that rake in billions annually from forced labour and exploitation. – Pixabay pic, January 10, 2023

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BY The Vibes Team

Despite the cartel leaders’ meetings with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the prime minister has ordered the Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry to look into the allegations of human trafficking and slavery involving these individuals. – AZIM RAHMAN/The Vibes file pic, January 10, 2023
Bestinet founder Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Abdul Nor has reportedly been investigated over his ties with several politicians, including cabinet members. – Bestinet Sdn Bhd Facebook pic, January 10, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – For many years, the inflow of foreign workers from Bangladesh to Malaysia has been monopolised by two power brokers, but their corrupt practices and control over this lucrative business may soon come to an end.

Calls are growing for an open system that no longer limits the number of Bangladeshi recruitment agencies, with stakeholders urging the government to end the involvement of the two “cartels” that rake in billions annually from forced labour and exploitation.

In fact, the Bangladeshi foreign worker recruitment industry is a human trafficking syndicate responsible for the misery of thousands of migrants from the country.

Sources close to the matter told The Vibes that corruption in the recruitment system has lined the pockets of government officials of both countries, with the money trails leading up to the highest offices.

Two key players in the Bangladeshi workers recruitment industry are billionaires from Dhaka – one of them is a permanent resident of Malaysia, while another is based in Bangladesh.

Under the new unity government, they have already begun courting the new leadership, with one of them having met Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, introduced by high-level government operatives.

It is learnt that they have sought patronage and protection from every new prime minister in the last three years.

Despite the cartel leaders’ meetings with Anwar, the prime minister has proceeded to order the Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry to look into the allegations of human trafficking and slavery involving these individuals.

A source said both billionaires have 100 Bangladeshi recruitment agencies under their control, and that the Malaysia-based businessman has a grip on 69 of them, while his “rival” in Dhaka has 31. 

All of these agencies, the source revealed, paid at least RM2 million each to “join the club” of recruiters and have their own stakes in the migration industry.Despite the cartel leaders’ meetings with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the prime minister has ordered the Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry to look into the allegations of human trafficking and slavery involving these individuals. – AZIM RAHMAN/The Vibes file pic, January 10, 2023

The workers, often recruited from the interior areas of Bangladesh, pay up to RM3,800 in “toll” bribes, on top of the RM15,000 to RM25,000 in fees to facilitate their migration to Malaysia.

The source said such schemes applied only to recruiters and workers from Bangladesh, and not other source countries such as Indonesia, Nepal, and Philippines.

“The question now is: why are there only two cartels controlling foreign recruitment from Bangladesh when it is not practised for other countries?” another source said.

These cartels are worse than drug cartels as they involve human trafficking. Blood is on their hands.”

The source noted that the workers often end up with lifetimes of debt, with some families back home only receiving parts of their husbands’ and fathers’ earnings after two years.

Underpaid, overworked, and living in crammed, squalid conditions, the plight of Bangladeshi workers in this country has also been widely reported by international media.

This contributed to Malaysia being stuck in Tier 3 of the US State Department’s Human Trafficking Report, which prevents Malaysians from enjoying Visa on Arrival privileges in the United States.

Previously raided

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) raid on IT solutions company Bestinet Sdn Bhd in July last year again cast a spotlight on alleged syndicates monopolising the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers in the country.

The raid saw several officials questioned, in a probe into the dubious selection of 25 Bangladesh recruiting agencies tasked with sending their workers here.

The reports on the raid noted that Bestinet’s founder, Bangladesh national turned Malaysian citizen Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Abdul Nor was not detained, but was among several individuals questioned by the anti-graft body to establish their alleged involvement in the selection of agencies.

Amin, better known as Amin Bangla, was also reportedly investigated over his ties with several politicians, including cabinet members, while MACC wanted to identify the criteria used to select the 25 companies.Bestinet founder Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Abdul Nor has reportedly been investigated over his ties with several politicians, including cabinet members. – Bestinet Sdn Bhd Facebook pic, January 10, 2023

In June 2018, The Star ran an article highlighting the plight of more than 100,000 Bangladeshi workers and victims of human trafficking who allegedly paid RM20,000 each to the syndicate involving a particular “Datuk Seri”.

The article in The Star alleged that the “Datuk Seri” had been in control of the Sistem Perkhidmatan Pekerja Asing (Foreign Workers Services System, or SPPA), which served as the sole system for hiring Bangladeshi workers.

Under the scheme, employers were required to pay RM305 per worker hired from Bangladesh, fees that went to Bestinet as a service charge for the distribution of the workers.

A source told the daily at the time that only 10 agencies were allowed to bring in Bangladeshi workers, while more than 1,500 other recruiters were left out of the government-to-government agreement on the matter.

In early June, more than 1,300 recruitment agencies in Bangladesh threatened to hold a protest against former human resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan over the selection of 25 firms, following the memorandum of understanding between the two countries on December 19 last year. – The Vibes, January 10, 2023

10th Jan 2023: Time to accord Nepalese guard respect they deserve for their sacrifices in Malaysia

Time to accord Nepalese guard respect they deserve for their sacrifices in Malaysia https://focusmalaysia.my/time-to-accord-nepalese-guard-respect-they-deserve-for-their-sacrifices/

Time to accord Nepalese guard respect they deserve for their sacrifices

SECURITY guards from Nepal are some of the most abused, extorted, and ill-treated at-risk workers in Malaysia.

These young guards often fall into situations of debt bondage through exorbitant and extortionate recruitment related fees and costs charged to them in their villages in Nepal by local agents working alongside Malaysian security guard agencies/Malaysian manpower agencies that remain almost totally unregulated.

“Malaysian security guard agencies are too often run by politically-linked former Malaysian law enforcement and military officials who act with almost total impunity,” migrant worker rights specialist Andy Hall told FocusM.Andy Hall

“They work the indebted guards non-stop, without rest days, housing them in poor accommodation and restricting their freedom of movement and ability to resign and leave a job through passport confiscation.”

The UK-born human rights researcher/investigator who is familiar with the labour system in Malaysia described the hardship encountered by Nepalese guards in Malaysia as a situation which requires urgent attention by both Malaysian and Nepali authorities whatever the established cause of this latest situation is.

“The situation for Nepali security guards in Malaysia is without doubt too often one of systemic forced labour in the wealthy apartments, embassies, shopping malls and luxury shops of the Malaysian capital and across the country,” he opined.

Hall’s comment on the poor treatment of Nepalese security guards in Malaysia was prompted by an article in Nepalese portal ekantipur.com entitled “Nepali Guards in Malaysia: A Unique Market Without Profit”.

The article in the Nepalese language, among others, claimed that Nepalese security guards in Malaysia work 12 hours daily “yet not paid the specified minimum wage and overtime because the recruitment process is not transparent”.

Below is an excerpt of the daily ordeal faced by security guard Umesh Chaudhary who is based at the Kota Raya shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur (his employer has deployed three Malaysians and six Nepalis security guards at that venue):

There are two shifts of 3-3 people, my group works from 6am to 6pm while the other team works from 6pm to 6am. You have to leave the camp at 5am to arrive for duty at 6am.

After finishing duty at 6pm, we reach the camp only at 7pm in the evening. It is the same for 30 days of the month, there is no day off. If the leave is taken immediately, the salary will be cut.

You cannot call on duty. I talk to my wife and children only once a week. There is no leisure at home when you are in your room. I get busy when I have free time.

The monthly salary I get for performing this duty is RM1,790. I have not received the minimum wage of RM1,500 set by the Malaysian government.

My minimum salary is RM1,100. I earn RM1,790 only after working four hours of overtime daily and during my weekly off-days.

I flew to Malaysia in the second week of July 2022after paying 160,000 Nepalese rupees (RM5,322) to Worldways Manpower International company.

After five months of my arrival in Malaysia, I have not been able to pay the debt incurred.  There was no work for one-and-a half-month after coming to Malaysia and no money. I was given a salary slip of RM700 which I spent RM320 on food. The amount of was reduced to RM420 in the second month. – Jan 10, 2023

Latest news and update: UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency (6th Jan 2023)/Nepal seasonal workers regulation seems not to apply to UK recruitment

Latest news and update: UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency (6th Jan 2023)/Nepal seasonal workers regulation seems not to apply to UK recruitment

https://kathmandupost.com/money/2023/01/05/uk-s-court-hands-slavery-and-trafficking-risk-order-to-a-nepali-agency

See updated news below from The Kathmandu Post on the confusion stemming from the UK GLAA’s recent enforcement decision regarding forced labour related allegations in unethical recruitment of butchers from Nepal to the UK.

Those allegedly Nepali nationals subject to the UK court order claim they don’t have a GLAA license in the first place to be suspended, have never sent workers to the UK and are not UK citizens thereby outside of the enforcement remit of GLAA.

Meanwhile, Umakanta Acharya, DG of Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), has reportedly said the new Nepali guidelines for sending seasonal workers from Nepal to the UK under a zero cost scheme (issued recently) might not be implementable in case of the UK. The guidelines say a local level authority in a foreign country with a labour demand needs to send a demand letter to the local level authority in Nepal with which it has established a sister city relationship. However, that is not how the recruitment happens for the UK jobs. Hence it looks like the new guidelines were brought to facilitate sending workers to South Korea only.

As a result, this area of Nepal UK recruitment probably still remains unregulated in Nepal as concerns sending workers to the UK labour market in increasing numbers. The forced labour related risks for the workers particularly from debt bondage and unethical recruitment remain severe whilst the rule of law and established ethical recruitment channels remain weak or non existent.

Lots of confusion remains at this time on this concerning issue, with neither the Nepali or UK authorities clarifying the situation and/or formal channels, mechanisms and costs on migration between Nepal and the UK. Prospective Nepali workers remain in a state of confusion at increasing risk of being cheated by brokers, subagents, unlicensed manpower agents and the plethora of fake online materials.

Regarding fake materials for instance, see the post from the Nepal Embassy in the UK today. Urgent notice on the non-issuance of notice on the UK Seasonal Visa Posted on 05/01/2023 available at https://uk.nepalembassy.gov.np/urgent-notice-on-the-non-issuance-of-notice-on-the-uk-seasonal-visa/?fbclid=IwAR1Vfmdzx1qVzrZs7skoGvfyfmAdrz-UNlbjznlvzGiwp9CBK_Vwu9-F9qA

It is in my opinion of the most urgent imperative that both the UK and Nepali governments as related departments GLAA/DOFE/Home Office and concerned Embassies, as well as ALP and the UK seasonal worker scheme (SWS) operators publish genuine, factual and easy to understand materials and guidance for aspiring Nepali workers seeking to migrate formally to the UK for seasonal work at this specific time.

There are just so many fake websites, social media posts and a very active subagent, broker and unlicensed agent network presence in this area at this time spreading false information on Nepali migration to UK under the SWS that it needs to be countered with official information urgently by official sources.

But the first issue is for the ALP and SWS operators as well as the UK government to actually confirm whether there are even recruitment opportunities for the SWS from Nepal in 2023 or not. This is still not clear and a check of all websites of operators doesn’t make this clear now. If there are recruitment opportunities for Nepalis, it needs to be clear through what channels should workers apply and what the formal costs and processes need to be outlined. Will the Nepal government implement its recent seasonal worker directive? What are the formal channels?

Even those I engage don’t know the basic issues like this so it’s understandable how can generally less literate prospective (and often desperate) migrant workers cannot find the right information and rather fall victim to irregular brokers and agents/subagents and inaccurate online info. Whatever the SWS operator recruitment methods, this information dissemination is crucial

Given the absolute unregulated mess and chaos/legacy of the 2021/2022 seasonal worker seasons and exploitative and unregulated migration processes from Nepal to UK, I consider it the urgent duty of both governments to work together to counter false information spreading rapidly with utmost urgency at this time.

UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency

Resham Gurung and Pravin Rimal, the directors of a recruiting agency, denied the accusations saying they do not have a licence to send workers to the UK.

UK’s court hands slavery and trafficking risk order to a Nepali agency

Published at : January 5, 2023 Updated at : January 6, 2023 08:12
A UK court has handed a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order to two directors of a Nepali recruitment agency on suspicions of exploiting workers by charging exorbitant recruitment fees.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) said in a statement on Tuesday that it has suspended Adept and Agile’s licence, prohibiting it to supply workers to the UK’s regulated sectors of agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, and any associated processing and packaging.

The authority also licences gangmasters, companies that supply labour, in these sectors.

The GLAA is the foremost investigative agency for labour exploitation and modern slavery in the UK. Breaching a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

“Doncaster Magistrates’ Court approved the application from the GLAA for an interim Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order against Resham Gurung and Pravin Rimal at a hearing on December 21,” read the statement. “STROs are civil orders issued to restrict the activities of individuals who pose a serious risk of otherwise committing slavery or trafficking offences.”

Gurung and Rimal are listed as chairmen of Adept and Agile, a company based in Nepal.

“The order is in place for 18 months,” according to the statement. “Gurung, of Foxley Close, Blackwater, Surrey, and Rimal of Ring Road, Gwarko, Kathmandu are prevented under the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order from arranging anyone’s travel into or out of England, other than their own children.”

Gurung and Rimal denied the accusation.

“The decision does not seem authentic,” Gurung told the Post. “We are neither UK citizens nor have a licence to send workers there.”

Gurung claimed that they have never sent a single Nepali citizen to work in the UK. “We have nothing to say about the decision,” he said.

According to the GLAA, its officers spoke to 85 workers on two visits to a meat processing factory in South Yorkshire in October 2022.

“Workers told the GLAA that they had paid job-finding fees of up to 13,000 pounds (around Rs2 million) to Adept and Agile while they were still in Nepal,” said the statement. “Some had taken out loans to pay the fee, while others said that they had put up their homes or businesses as security for the loan.”

“Some of the workers added that they had been told not to speak about the payments, otherwise they could lose their jobs and be sent back to Nepal.”

The UK has emerged as one of the major destinations among Nepalis for skilled as well as seasonal work in recent years.

Usually, one can work as a butcher in the UK through a skilled workers visa. But in times of emergency need, the UK government has allowed the butchers to go to the UK as seasonal workerstoo.

In the skilled visa scheme, aspiring individuals need to have knowledge of English and a certificate of sponsorship from an employer.

Though the fees for finding work are explicitly banned under the GLAA licensing standards, the candidates are required to pay for the application and health surcharge, besides the travel cost.

While the standard application fee ranges from 625 to 1,423 pounds (around Rs99,000 to Rs 226,000), healthcare is usually 624 pounds per year.

The skilled work visa can last up to five years and can be extended further.

After five years, the workers may also be able to apply for permanent settlement in the UK.

The candidates also must have at least 1,270 pounds ( around Rs202,000 ) in their bank account to show that they can support themselves in the UK, if the employer cannot cover it.

Similarly, seasonal work in the horticulture sector in the UK consists of picking fruits, vegetables and flowers for six months.

According to government data, from 2019 to the first quarter of 2022, 1,124 Nepalis received UK visas for temporary work, putting Nepal in the second spot after India as the largest receiver of UK visas among South Asian countries in recent years.

Workers have to pay 259 pounds (around Rs41,000) as an application fee besides spending for their visa and a two-way ticket. They require a certificate of sponsorship, which is a reference number that holds information about the job and personal details.

There have been multiple reports of workers paying exorbitant recruitment fees to secure work and workers not being provided employment for the entire six-month period.

In November last year, the Post interviewed several Nepali seasonal workers who said they had to pay Rs500,000 to Rs900,000 to a third-party agent for securing fruit picking jobs in the UK.

The Guardian investigation last year found that migrant fruit pickers were charged thousands in illegal fees to work in UK farms.

A Nepali migrant worker told the British daily that she had to pay more than 3,000 pounds (around Rs477,000) to recruitment agents.

“Migrant workers being made to pay a huge amount in illegal recruitment fees is a very big issue in almost every sector in the UK,” said Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant workers’ rights specialist working in South and Southeast Asia.

“While the UK government does not have proper laws for ethical recruitment as a worker needs to pay a huge amount for application and healthcare besides the travel costs, the recruitment process monitoring mechanism in Nepal is very poor.”

Umakanta Acharya, director general of the Department of Foreign Employment, the organisation responsible for monitoring foreign employment, said there is a legal mechanism to investigate a recruiting agency and punish it accordingly, if found guilty. “But the victims first need to file a complaint at the department.”

According to Hall, a government-to-government mechanism to send the workers would be more effective to carry out ethical recruitment as well as protecting workers from injustices while working abroad.

The Nepal government recently approved the Seasonal Workers Management Working Guideline 2022, permitting the local level to select suitable candidates and send them to work temporarily in foreign countries.

According to the new guidelines, individuals will be sent for foreign employment under a ‘zero cost’ scheme through a government initiative. However, labour migration researchers have doubted its effective implementation, pointing out the need for a robust regulatory mechanism to oversee the entire process.

Pawan Pandey is a reporter for The Kathmandu Post