The seasonal agricultural sector in Scotland has an insufficient domestic workforce resulting in a high dependency on migrant workers, particularly in farms with seasonal crops which can't be mechanically harvested. Against this background the Scottish government has published a report on seasonal migrant workers in Scottish agriculture, based on research undertaken in 2022. We set out some of the key takeaways for employers.
Seasonal migrant workers cite the most beneficial aspect of working in Scottish agriculture as the ability to earn a good income. The report states that, in the period surveyed, pay ranged from £8.91 to £13.75 per hour, averaging at £10.22 per hour.
The Scottish Agricultural Wages Board sets out prescribed terms and conditions for agricultural workers in Scotland, including annually agreed minimum hourly rates of pay. The standard minimum hourly rate of pay from 1 April 2022 until 31 March 2023 was £9.50; from 1 April 2023 it is £10.42. Accommodation is the only benefit which can count towards the minimum hourly rate, provided this does not exceed £9.10 for each day in the week in which accommodation is provided (the 'accommodation offset').
Looking at pay rates alone does not provide the full picture. The survey found that accommodation was arranged by the employer for nine out of ten seasonal migrant workers, most commonly through on-site caravans with shared areas (84%). Accommodation costs tend to be deducted from pay, with workers paying £62 per week on average.
Although the report found that 87% of workers were satisfied with accommodation, it notes there are currently no recognised minimum standards of temporary accommodation. The report recommends that:
- The Scottish government explore how the 'tolerable standard regulations' could be applied to temporary accommodation and who would be best placed to do the inspections; and
- Employers continue to upgrade on-site accommodation including shared areas.
Any employer providing workers with rent-free accommodation to better perform their duties should ensure that they have the right to remove them from the property on the termination of the contract. Please get in touch to find out more.
On average seasonal migrant workers spend 43 hours working in a typical week. Although most workers surveyed were content with the hours they work, 46% wanted to work more hours. In terms of the Working Time Regulations 1998, unless there is a valid 'opt-out agreement', employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that agricultural workers do not work more than 48 hours in each working week averaged over a 26-week reference period.
A key concern for employers was matching labour demand with availability and the report commented on the potential advantages to both employers and workers of labour sharing across farms.
Although there is currently no system in place to monitor the total number of seasonal migrant workers, the report found that most came from Romania (21%), Bulgaria (18%) and Ukraine (17%). It also noted that agricultural workers came to Scotland via a variety of immigration routes:
- EU settled status (23%);
- EU pre-settled status (19%);
- Tier 5 visa (17%) (no longer available);
- Seasonal worker visa (10%); and
- Student visa with ability to work (subject to limits on hours) (3%).
Until the end of 2024 eligible individuals can apply for a seasonal worker visa to come to the UK to work in the horticulture sector for up to six months in any 12-month period. Individuals can apply at any time of the year on payment of a fee provided they have a sponsor and meet the other eligibility requirements. It is one of the few visas that does not have minimum English language requirements. Further information on sponsoring a seasonal worker is available here. The report acknowledges that there are issues for both employers and workers in terms of the seasonal worker visa route, in particular its short-term nature; the annual quota on the number of visas (expected to be 45,000 in 2023, with the option of a further 10,000 depending on demand); and restrictions on sharing workers between farms.
96% of seasonal migrant workers were satisfied with their experience and working conditions. Some of the challenges faced by workers, however, include:
- Missing family and friends (62% placed this as the biggest challenge of working in Scotland);
- Debt (50% of workers had come to Scotland based on loans or credit);
- Language barriers (31%);
- Accommodation (13%) and its cost (15%); and
- Isolation and distance to urban centres (11%).
The report sets out various recommendations, including the following:
- Employers: Consider the Scottish government's Fair Work First Guidance; treat workers with dignity; and be as clear as possible on wages and living costs. Also, continue to upgrade on-site accommodation; enable regular communication with family and friends; and provide appropriate support.
- Scottish government: Gather data on numbers of seasonal migrant workers; promote the available existing support; and apply the 'tolerable standard regulations' to temporary accommodation.
- UK government: Closely involve Scottish agriculture in shaping future visa schemes and give notice of any immigration changes by December in the preceding year. Consider whether any new scheme should (i) include minimum English language requirements; and (ii) allow labour sharing across farms.
It remains to be seen whether the UK and Scottish governments will implement the recommendations in the report and whether any of the immigration routes which apply to seasonal workers will change going forward. Returnee seasonal migrant workers are in high demand and a joint effort between all parties to enhance worker experience should help ensure the labour supply meets demand.
If you would like more information, please get in touch with a member of Brodies Employment and Immigration team. FAQs and templates on pay and benefits, working hours and immigration are available on Workbox by Brodies, our award-winning HR and employment law site. To find out more about Workbox, or to arrange a free online demo, please contact the Workbox team.