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Migrant Fruit Picker Takes Legal Action Against British Farm Over Alleged Exploitation

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Sapana Pangeni, a 31-year-old migrant fruit picker from Nepal, is taking her employers to a landmark employment tribunal in the UK. Ms. Pangeni, who participated in the government’s visa scheme for the agriculture sector, alleges that she was underpaid, forced to work six-day weeks, and compelled to purchase her own protective equipment during her employment at EU Plants Ltd, a major producer of raspberry and strawberry plants in Berkshire, as reported by The Independent.

Over the course of two months, between November 2022 and January 2023, Ms. Pangeni claims to have worked tirelessly, enduring six-day workweeks with shifts lasting up to eight and a half hours each day. The situation took a dire turn when she and her colleagues reportedly ran out of money within weeks of arriving in the UK. Struggling to afford groceries, Ms. Pangeni shared a meager £60, given by a friend, with other Nepali workers facing the same financial hardships.

The migrant worker’s ordeal extended beyond financial struggles. Ms. Pangeni alleges that her attempts to address the underpayment issue with her UK visa sponsor and recruiter in January 2023 went unanswered. In an email, she detailed her challenges, expressing the difficulties in covering living expenses and groceries. Despite her complaint, her transfer to another farm did not come with the compensation owed to her.

Beyond the financial discrepancies, Ms. Pangeni asserts that she was not provided with a contract, had to acquire her personal protective equipment, and faced indirect discrimination. Her legal team argues that being on a six-month visa made it harder for her to assert her rights compared to those with more secure immigration statuses, either through unions or the legal system.

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Ms. Pangeni’s case is not an isolated incident. She is one of around 35,000 migrant workers who arrived in the UK on six-month seasonal worker visas in 2022. Human rights groups consistently highlight the risks of exploitation due to the visa’s structure and the inadequate enforcement of employment and visa regulations. Despite these concerns, the government has steadily increased the number of visas issued since 2019, with projections of up to 55,000 visas in 2023.

A joint investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Independent revealed government failures to address welfare issues raised by hundreds of workers on the seasonal visa in 2021 and 2022. Nusrat Uddin from Wilson LLP, representing Ms. Pangeni, underscores the challenges faced by workers seeking compensation after leaving the country, stating that farms are aware of these barriers hindering mistreatment claims.

Ms. Pangeni’s pursuit of justice sheds light on the vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers and raises crucial questions about the adequacy of current employment and immigration regulations in protecting their rights. The outcome of this landmark tribunal may well have far-reaching implications for the treatment of seasonal workers in the UK.

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Birminghamgist Staff is a News Reporter, making waves in the UK with insightful and Engaging reporting.

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