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Unfair dismissal claim made against UK farm by seasonal cherry picker from Chile

In a post Brexit scheme to work in the UK, Ms Julia Quecano Casimiro has become the first worker to claim unfair dismissal. Ms Casimiro flew thousands of miles for short-term employment on a farm in Herefordshire.

After leaving Chili in June to pick cherries in Hertfordshire, Ms Casimiro hoped she would be able to save enough money to study biochemistry. When she left the farm a month later she had little more than £100 and ended up homeless in London.

Ms Casimiro, aged 23, filed her claim against Haygrove farm last week for unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal and harassment. She is the first person on a seasonal worker visa to take a farm to an employment tribunal. A preliminary hearing is expected in March.

Representing some of Britain’s most vulnerable low paid workers, United Voices of the World union has taken the case on behalf of Ms Casimiro.

Haygrove farm supplies berries and cherries to most of the large supermarket chains in the UK. They have rejected the claims and allegations, and intend to ‘defend the claims robustly.’

Working in Bolivia from the age of 11, Ms Casimiro did jobs to supplement the family income as small scale farmers. Although she is one of a group of 134 Latin American workers to come to the farm, she is the only worker who is taking it to tribunal.

Initially when she arrived at the farm the terrible weather meant that there was no work, and for the first twelve days she sat in a caravan wondering how she would be able to make back the cost of the visas and the flight. 

She and the other workers were lent between £50 and £100 for essentials. They were not charged for their accommodation during this period and neither did they receive any pay.

Finally when work began, Ms Casimiro found that conditions were not what she was led to believe. The workers were constantly shouted at. Ms Casimiro told of one supervisor in particular who often raised his voice.

Haygrove farm disputed the entire account and told the tribunal that no grievances had been raised against the supervisor.

The claimant stated that there was no drinking water at the place where they picked cherries and she ended up eating some fruit to quench her thirst. For this she had been reprimanded.

Haygrove countered this by saying that water was always provided in all picking fields by the team leaders. This was regularly checked. They added that eating fruit was forbidden for hygiene reasons.

Ms Casimiro and other workers who lived in caravans had to leave at 4.20 am and be bussed 90 minutes to one of the farm’s West Country sites. The workers were not paid for this travel time.

The claimant stated that she thought she would be living where she worked. Haygrove stated that all the workers were offered the chance to move to the other site but many chose to stay. Ms Casimiro denies this.

On the day that she raised her concerns about the farm with a senior colleague, she was told she did not have a shift the next day. Ms Casimiro was very upset and felt that her work was being taken away because she had dared to speak out.

Haygrove denied this, with a spokesperson for the farm stating that higher performing workers were given more shifts and it was entirely possible that Ms Casimiro was not needed to work that day. However, Haygrove said that feedback was welcome and did not reflect in their work schedules.

The claimant stated that when she was recruited in Chili in May, she was informed that she could make £500 a week. She also claimed that she was told she would have to pay back no more than £800 for the price of her flight.

While in the caravan when the weather was bad, she was given a flight bill of over £1500 to be paid back at £250 over six weeks.

Haygrove commented that workers had been given a flight guide price of between £1000 and £1400. Flights had been more expensive and there was further the discrepancy between the face value of the tickets and what the travel agent had charged them.

Haygrove loaned the cost of the flight so that they would not be liable for modern slavery, they also paid the discrepancy in the flight prices.

Ms Casimiro and many of her Latin American workers went on an unofficial strike after they received their bills and while some of them negotiated with Haygrove farm to return to work, Ms Casimiro left.

The claimant stated that she believed Britons would not accept the conditions because they ‘have better options.’

She felt that the only people who would accept conditions like that were ‘people like her who were in need and not completely aware of what they are signing up for.’

Commenting on this, Haygrove stated that when they recruited British workers during the pandemic they picked at a third of the rate, they did not stay, but neither did they complain about working conditions.

Brexit, and the war in the Ukraine have become a monumental crisis for farms such as Haygrove who up till then had relied on pickers from Ukraine when the EU supply dried up.

Designed as a solution, the seasonal worker scheme allowed farms to hire workers from thousands of miles away on short term visas, with the workers only shouldering the cost of their flights and visas.

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