Indonesians await farming jobs in UK after paying deposits of up to £2,500 | Immigration and asylum

Indonesians dreaming of working in Britain have reportedly paid down payments of up to £2,500 to an agency in Jakarta to ‘secure’ jobs on British farms that have yet to materialise.

Labor experts say a down payment is considered a job search fee, which is illegal in the UK and Indonesia.

A worker told the Guardian he made a £1,000 deposit in July to an agency in Jakarta to secure a farming job with a British recruiter, but didn’t even have an interview. ‘hiring.

He said he was one of many people left unemployed and out of pocket hoping for a farming job in the UK.

“We stopped working so that we could seriously go through the recruitment process for a new and better job. Now we are unemployed and our fate is increasingly unclear,” he said.

Official Indonesian government documents from late August suggest around 170 workers were stranded in Indonesia after being posted to jobs at 19 farms across the UK.

A Chardonnay harvest in Hampshire. A worker has paid a deposit of £1,000. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Alamy

Most have been out of work for several months, waiting for jobs they thought were imminent, and almost all have received visas to come to the UK.

It is understood there are plans to bring some of these workers to Britain, despite the harvest season being so far away.

It follows revelations in the Guardian that Indonesian workers harvesting berries at a farm that supplies Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco had reported facing thousands of pounds in charges from untrusted brokers. licensed in Bali to work for a single season in the UK. Brexit and the war in Ukraine have driven desperate recruiters and farms to seek labor thousands of miles away.

A presidential task force in Indonesia is investigating the circumstances of the recruitment of fruit pickers after experts said alleged high fees could put workers at risk of debt bondage.

The Gangmasters and Labor Abuse Authority is investigating whether any UK laws have been broken.

Andy Hall, an independent migrant rights expert who investigates issues of forced labor in supply chains in Asia, said: “There is no legal basis in Indonesian or UK law for charging for money to workers as recruitment fees, whether called a deposit or not. When a deposit is taken from a candidate, it is an illegal recruitment fee.

He said the risks of debt bondage leading to forced labor and the involuntary departure of a worker abroad against their will would increase significantly if deposits were taken from workers rather than potential employers or customers.

Indonesian workers already in Britain were supplied by AG Recruitment, one of four UK agencies authorized to recruit using seasonal worker visas. AG denied any wrongdoing and said he knew nothing about Indonesian brokers charging fees or deposits.

AG had no previous experience in Indonesia and sought help from Jakarta-based Al Zubara Manpower, who in turn approached brokers in other islands who charged exorbitant fees to people they presented, according to an Al Zubara agent.

So far more than 1,200 Indonesians have been placed on UK farms this year by AG working alongside Al Zubara, the Guardian has learned.

Among them, 207 were from Bali, where Al Zubara has no office and relies on brokers to provide candidates. Another 102 come from Lombok, where reliance on brokers is believed to be similar.

A strawberry crop grows inside a polytunnel
Photography: Bloomberg/Getty Images

AG Recruitment managing director Douglas Amesz said AG only went to Al Zubara to get help with the publicity and to draw up the letter of formal notice, which gives formal permission to recruit workers.

But advertisements seen by the Guardian give Al Zubara email addresses for job applications, and under local laws only an Indonesian-licensed labor agency can recruit. Local official documents suggest that Al Zubara undertook the recruitment, although Amesz strongly denies this.

Now an Indonesian government source says workers are reporting that Al Zubara is encouraging them to post bail of up to 50 million rupees (£2,500) to secure employment in the UK. We understand that many are waiting to speak to AG.

A worker who had not yet been interviewed by AG or signed a contract said he had been encouraged by Al Zubara to pay a deposit of around £1,000 to show interest and secure employment in Britain.

He said he knew others who had done the same, and the Guardian saw receipts for two of those payments. “We know that many candidates are crying every day, waiting for news from AG,” he said.

Amesz said: “Making any form of payment, whether qualified as a deposit or otherwise, to Al Zubara (AZ), or any party, in the form of a job search fee is illegal both in the UK and Indonesia and is not tolerated by AG in any way.Our contracts with AZ make it clear that none of these practices would be tolerated and that AZ must comply with local and English law. I did the recruitment in Indonesia, we also made it clear to every worker that they should never pay for a job in the UK and report any such approach.”

Al Zubara charges £2,500 for agricultural jobs in the UK, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Fees include flights and visas. Several laborers said they faced thousands of pounds in extra fees from Indonesian brokers who brought them to Al Zubara and promised substantial earnings. Al Zubara has been contacted several times for comment.

Ad on al Zubara's website, which has since been removed.
Ad on al Zubara’s website, which has since been removed. Photography: Instagram

David Camp, president of the Labor Suppliers Association, of which AG is a member, said: “The responsibility of the GLAA is to thoroughly investigate and determine whether or not Al Zubara was supplying workers to AG. Al Zubara does not have a GLAA license and it is a criminal offense to operate as an unlicensed gangmaster or enter into agreements to supply workers with an unlicensed gangmaster.

AG has strongly denied any suggestion that AZ has been hired to recruit for AG. Amesz said he did the recruiting directly in Indonesia, and that “AZ was contracted by AG to perform services in Indonesia to help us establish the application letter (for the job path) and then to provide local advertising via job boards Contracts with AZ specifically stated that they were not to sub-contract work to third parties, nor apply charges to workers.”

AG blamed the Indonesian bureaucracy for delaying the allocation of work permits. Al Zubara had his UK recruitment license temporarily suspended within a week of the Guardian publishing his first story.

AG intended to hire in Ukraine before the war broke out and had to scramble for a large number of workers in a new short-term market.

Amesz said AG was aware that workers in Indonesia were waiting to come to the UK and that he had interviewed “all remaining workers to establish their individual circumstances”. He said he had asked applicants still in Indonesia about “what payments, if any, the workers made and to whom.”

Andrew Opie, Food and Sustainability Director at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Our members are aware of these allegations and remain extremely concerned. They are urgently investigating possible breaches of the system with suppliers.

“Clearly recruiting seasonal workers has become more difficult, especially with the loss of Ukrainian workers, and retailers will work this fall in partnership with farmers, program operators, law enforcement and government. to ensure that all labor rights continue to be protected.”

A Tesco spokesman said the supermarket welcomed investigations in both countries and said it was “essential that all illegal charges are fully reimbursed”.


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