Over 200 Indonesian fruit pickers in the UK have asked for diplomatic assistance because they are facing difficulties finding a job.
Quoted from The Guardian on Friday 2nd December 2022, their request was made in July. The Indonesian citizens have been living in limbo in temporary shelters and face debts of hundreds of millions of rupiah.
The British media outlet has spoken to Indonesian workers who work on a farm in Scotland that supplies berries to M&S, Waitrose, Tesco, and Lidl. One stated that fruit pickers are sent back to the caravan if they don’t work quickly and they have a large debt to pay off in a short time.
The Indonesian Embassy in London, wrote The Guardian, said that the actual number of people experiencing problems is likely to be much higher. This is because there are several Indonesian citizens who have sought help on behalf of several workers on the same plantation and others are reluctant to come to the embassy.
The most commonly reported problem is a lack of work on plantations and farms, especially for those arriving very late in the season. Some people can’t even work until the harvest season is over.
Seasonal worker visas allow people to come to the UK for six months to work. However, during certain periods, there is no guarantee they will get a job.
An Indonesian citizen who has been working at Castleton Farms in Aberdeenshire since July said he was repeatedly sent back to the caravan he was staying in after only a few hours of fruit picking. The reason he was given was that he could not meet the target for picking fruit.
The Indonesian worker said he had borrowed money in April to pay a local agent in Indonesia – the debt totals more than £4,650 or nearly Rp90 million – to be able to go and work in the UK.
Furthermore, the jobs he was given in Scotland were so few that he only earned around £200 or around Rp3.8 million per week. According to him, wages of that size were too low to be able to repay his debt.
He was finally dismissed after two months of work because he was considered slow and got a red flag. The Indonesian national was then transferred to a farm in Kent, but work there only lasted until early November.
To be able to survive whilst in England, the man accrued debts of more than Rp32 million. So far, he has not found another job.
The British Retail Consortium has said supermarkets buying from Castleton were concerned about the matter and were investigating it as a matter of urgency. Ross Mitchell, managing director of Castleton Fruit, said he couldn’t comment on specific cases.
He emphasised that his farm has disciplinary procedures, as all employers do, to deal with issues related to employee performance. According to him, workers’ welfare is of the utmost importance and he employs nearly 1,000 people every year, of which more than 70 percent return.
Mitchell said there have been 106 workers from Indonesia on his farm so far this year and 70 of them are still working today. They work an average of 41.81 hours a week for an average gross weekly wage of £450.68 or around Rp8.6 million.
According to Mitchell, farms are concerned about fees being demanded by third parties or agents. What is clear is that he is relying on approved agencies to do due diligence to ensure that workers are not overpaying.
Based on data from The Guardian, more than 1,450 Indonesian citizens have come to the UK on seasonal work visas. They were supplied by AG Recruitment, one of four UK agencies licensed to recruit using the scheme.
The Gangmasters and Labor Abuse Authority (GLAA) has been investigating AG Recruitment in Indonesia since The Guardian raised this matter in August. At the time, The Guardian reported that workers owed up to £5,000 to illegal foreign brokers to work in the UK for a season.
AG has denied wrongdoing and said it knew nothing about Indonesian brokers charging potential workers for money.