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April 2003, Volume 9, Number 2

UK: Foreign Farm Workers

The UK has had a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) since 1945 to allow foreign students to work on British farms. Some 40,000 workers from Turkey (10,000), Iran (10,000) and Eastern European countries (20,000) are to be admitted- 25,000 will be directed to fill seasonal farm jobs in 2004, up from 18,700 in 2002 and 20,200 for 2003. Gangmasters or contractors organize seasonal workers into crews, and most farmers pay the gangmaster for the work done, and they retain 25 to 30 percent of the farmers' payment as a commission before paying workers. SAWS workers cannot work in year-round jobs, for example in livestock or picking mushrooms.

Nationals of Turkey, Iran and Eastern Europe who are 18- to 25-years old could receive renewable 12-month work permits, and be employed in agriculture, food processing, hotel and catering and construction in the sector-based short-term working contracts program. It is believed that 50,000 illegal workers- unauthorized foreigners and British workers drawing unemployment and welfare benefits while working for cash wages- are employed on British farms and in packinghouses every year.

One reason to develop these so-called "Supersaws" is to limit abuse of the asylum system. In 2001, 3,700 people applied for asylum from Turkey, and 3,416 from Iran. Unions say that increasing the number of work permits will not reduce asylum applications. They say that simply stamping a passport with a 12-month "Supersaws" work permit, up from the current eight months, without guaranteeing housing or work contracts, could increase petty crime and illegal immigration.

The separate Working Holiday Makers scheme allows citizens of commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa aged 17-27 to work in the UK for up to a year "incidental to a holiday." Working Holiday Makers must show that they have an onward ticket, and that they can support themselves without public assistance in the UK. In 2000, 38,500 people entered the UK under the Working Holidaymakers Scheme.

The concept of expanding guest worker programs to deter illegal migration was laid out in a 2002 White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven." http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm53/5387/cm5387.htm

Because of rising wages and difficulty finding workers, many European dairy farmers are adopting robotic milking systems; some 400 mostly Lely Astronaut systems are in operation in Europe http://www.lely.ca/).

East Anglican farm worker union leaders want a L6 minimum wage beginning July 2003, a 22 percent increase. The union also wants more controls on gangmasters, contractors who organize crews of seasonal workers.

Korea's National Agricultural Co-operative Federation is bringing 2,500 farm workers from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Ukraine, Mongolia and China to work as "agricultural trainees" for two years. They will be paid 600,000 won ($484) a month and provided with room and board and health and accident insurance.


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