The rights of thousands of migrant workers working hard to pick fruit and vegetables to keep the food chain supplied during the coronavirus emergency need to be respected, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 24 March).

Unite, which has thousands of members in the food and agriculture sectors, said that migrant employees working in the fields and orchards were designated as ‘key workers’ as they were a vital cog in the food production and supply chains.

Unite national officer for agriculture Bev Clarkson said: “In the past, there have been cases where migrant workers have been exploited by some employers, but, at this critical junction in the coronavirus emergency, we need to reinforce the message that the rights of migrant workers need to be fully respected.

“There were already shortages of workers in the agriculture and fruit sectors to pick the crops because of the uncertainty created by Brexit, so that’s why migrant workers are a vital cog in the food production and supply chains.”

Unite called for two measures to support migrant workers to be strictly enforced:

  • Health & safety regulations as there is a high percentage of fatalities in this sector.
  • Constant monitoring of the salaries that workers are paid as, again, this is a sector where employees can be open to abuse.

Bev Clarkson added: “I am sure that the vast majority of employers will respect the migrant workforce and protect their pay at the proper rates and employment conditions.

“But today Unite is putting down a strong marker that we won’t tolerate any rogue bosses tempted to make a fast buck during this national emergency.”


Notes to editors:

For more about Unite's work during the coronavirus crisis to keep workers and the public safe, and to protect jobs and incomes, click here.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065 Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.