Martin and Daniella work in an old people’s home. Their leave to remain in the UK is based on a contract to work a 42 hour week. If they break their contract, they must pay their employers a significant sum of money. This sum of money reduces over three years but for those years they have the status of bonded workers.
Daniella is a qualified nurse in her own country. When I ask her what she does, she lowers her voice. It requires an effort to admit that she is now a cleaner. Her husband, Martin, is a doctor.but in the care home, he is a care assistant. Both have high principles.
They are asked – required even – to work every day. On rest days they are called in to work. Martin can work from 7.00 in the morning to 9 at night. He has had only two free days in the last three months – once to meet his wife from the airport; once to move to new rented accommodation. These two days were taken despite shrill opposition from his employers.
All these extra hours are still only paid at the basic rate.
In order to have their experience recognised and be able to apply for more responsible jobs, they need qualifications in English. It is of no comfort to them that the government wants all migrants to learn English. They are willing to pay the new steep charges at the local college – if only that college was running sufficient courses and they had guaranteed time from their employer to be able to attend.
So the strawberries are rotting in the fields. It comes as a shock that the migrant student workers from Bulgaria and Romania did not show up this year. Were they fed up with the way they were treated on many of these farms? Or were they prevented from coming by quotas unnecessarily applied by a government running scared of our right wing anti-migrant press?