Skip to content

Our Seasonal Workforce: Health and Safety and Worker Welfare

6 July 2021

Given that the seasonal workers who come to Scotland for work are from various countries and backgrounds, it is important that they feel respected, valued, and safe within the workplace, and that  employers understand the challenges they face with regards language barriers and cultural and legislative differences.

Health and Safety

When it comes to Health and Safety, employers of seasonal workers must give full guidance, instruction, and training on how jobs should be carried out safely to minimise the risk to staff.  Similarly, it is the responsibility of workers to ensure that they do not put others at risk as they carry out their work or use any equipment in a way other than how they were trained.

For the protection of both employees and employers, employers should remember that language barriers and cultural attitudes about health and safety may interfere with good health and safety management and can significantly increase the risk of workplace accidents.   Communicating the importance of Health and Safety on farms can be difficult if workers have a lack of understanding of written or spoken English.  Equally, confusion or lack of competence in relation to the work being carried out can mean that workers don’t recognise hazards or understand the risk and potential consequences if they mis-use equipment.

Fortunately, there are approaches that employers can take to mitigate these issues and encourage a high standard of Health and Safety within workers.  Take a look at this HSE document for a selection of excellent ideas to help with protecting migrant workers.  If you are looking to explain to seasonal workers what their responsibilities are then a document can be found here in English and seven other languages.  HSE have a dedicated website section for migrant workers with the potential for each page to be translated into 16 different languages.  This is a fantastic resource for employers who may be struggling with communication.


Migrant Worker Health and Welfare

The report by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) and Fife Migrants Forum (2021) highlighted that there is often a lack of detail provided to seasonal/migrant workers about what their job would entail and what the terms of the work would be in relation to pay and provisions which can lead to feelings of worker exploitation and isolation.  By law, workers should be provided with an employment contract that details job title/description, rate of pay, hours, sickness, and grievance procedures as a very minimum.  For further information regarding this, click here.

Using an employment contract template which can be adapted to individual contracts/circumstances could help significantly with the issues that arise with workers feeling poorly informed about the particulars of the job.  Equally, where seasonal staff/migrant workers are managed by an Agency, a written contract can assist with complaints from employers that their expectations from their seasonal workforce are not being met.  Translating employment contracts into the native language of workers will ensure that there is no ambiguity with regards a workers terms and conditions.

An area that employers should also be aware of to reduce the risk of seasonal workers being exploited is the rules around transfer of employment.  Home Office Guidance states that sponsors under the Seasonal Workers Visa should, where possible, enable workers to move to another employer.  As employers are not allowed to refuse to let an employee leave, and in order to ensure that seasonal workers are clear on the situation; it is recommended that employers make the process for requesting a transfer and/or the grounds on which these requests will be assessed e.g. notice periods made clear at the start of employment.

To ensure that seasonal and migrant workers feel respected, valued and safe within the workplace, the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI) are now offering a dedicated helpline for seasonal workers with a translator available if required.  The helpline staff are able to assist seasonal workers by explaining matters such as calculation of wages, payment, and accommodation to help them understand these aspects of their employment better.

In addition to the practical support on offer, RSABI recognise that workers are away from home for an extended period, some for the first time, and can offer emotional support.  In certain cases, and where consent was given, RSABI can contact employers of seasonal workers to assist with communication or access third party expertise from organisations such as ACAS, Citizens Advice and the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board.  If lack of income is highlighted as an issue which is causing hardship, then RSABI would also establish if they can assist financially for a short period of time. Posters detailing what the helpline offers are detailed in 7 different languages should employers wish to display these in the workplace.

Employers or workers can either call the helpline direct on 0300 111 4160 between 5pm and 8pm on weekdays or 10.30am-2pm on weekends. Alternatively, a call back form can be completed online to be contacted by a member of the team.


The Farm Work Welfare App

While slavery might conjure up images of a bygone era, every year, vulnerable and migrant seasonal workers are targeted and exploited by highly organised criminal gangs.  Shockingly, labour exploitation is the second most common form of modern slavery in the UK after coerced criminality.

The Farm Work Welfare App has been designed to support both employers and workers.  The App provides farmers and growers with information, signposting and tools to promote worker welfare  and to help avoid criminal organisations.  Farm businesses, workers or local people can use it to flag up concerns, suspicions or seek help.  The FWW App is available free on Google Play and the Apple App Store.  For a link to further information on worker exploitation, human trafficking, click here.



Sign up to the FAS newsletter

Receive updates on news, events and publications from Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service