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Impact of Covid-19 on Romanian and Bulgarian workers in UK agriculture

Research Summary examining the impact of Covid-19 within the UK agricultural industry

Published: 12th July 2021

This is a Research Summary of the Impact of Covid-19 on Romanian and Bulgarian workers in UK agriculture, a Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) research project, carried out by the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The full report can be accessed through the Rights Lab website.

This research looked at how Covid-19 affected Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK agriculture industry against the backdrop of reduced demand, introduction of PPE, new procedures and recruitment challenges. The team carried out an online survey of 439 UK-based Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers and interviewed stakeholders in business, labour authorities, migrants, NGOs, unions and organisations representing business interests.

Key findings

  • 67% Romanian and Bulgarian workers reported to be negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, potentially making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Many workers struggled to cover basic expenses due to the ways in which Covid-19 impacted their employment.
  • Some workers faced additional pressures, with reports of problematic practices including not being allowed to take breaks at work and enforcing overtime.
  • Covid-19 amplified existing vulnerabilities, such as working on non-permanent contracts, lack of language skills or lower literacy.
  • The systemic challenges faced by businesses and enforcement agencies limited the inspection and regulatory oversight of workplaces and had potential negative effects on workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.

Priority recommendations

  • Access to employment related advice and support for workers to be improved. Employers should improve workplace support through methods such as buddy schemes and helplines and the Government should development communication campaigns on topics such as reporting mechanisms.
  • The UK Government should ensure the Single Enforcement Body for labour rights has adequate resources to address a full range of potential violations and that enforcement is visible to workers.
  • The UK Government should ensure statutory sick pay is sufficient to cover basic needs and that zero hours contracts are reduced.
  • Trade Unions and NGOs should work to close partnership to support migrants and seasonal workers and community NGOs should receive funding to advocate for migrant workers rights.