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7 November 2014

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Metal buildings

Where the workers live

Migrant workers

BBC H&W's special investigation into the hardship faced by thousands of migrant workers in Herefordshire.

S&A Produce - the largest strawberry producer in the country - employs nearly 4,000 workers from Eastern Europe, at the height of summer, at its polytunnel farms in Brierley and Marden.



BBC Hereford & Worcester's investigative reporter Carson Wishart has interviewed a series of S&A workers, who reveal how life behind the barbed wire camp is harsh, with extremely cramped conditions in metal boxes.

It's also claimed the company operates a highly controversial penalty system.

Speaking on Howard Bentham at Breakfast, 19-year-old Polish worker Marcin Brzystowicz exposed a football-style yellow card disciplinary scheme.

Yellow-cards are mainly given to migrant workers who aren't able to pick the required 8kg of strawberries an hour - although many claim there's not always enough fruit on the farm to pick.

"If you gain three yellow cards you're fired"

Marcin Brzystowicz

"If you gain three yellow cards you're fired," Marcin told BBC Hereford & Worcester.

"For example, if the group collects eight kilos per person per hour then they're okay - but if it's three or four or even seven you'll get a yellow card.

"But there are no equal fields- one field will have more mud than another, and this is why the averages are low.

"Sometimes - when you go to clean the field - you're going second or third time, after a group that has gone for the first time, and there's not enough strawberries."

Legal view

One of Britain's top employment lawyers Tom Jones, of Thompsons Solicitors, told the BBC that the yellow-card system is not illegal but "highly unorthodox".

"If such a case went before a tribunal judge he would take an extremely dim view of it. It's fundamentally wrong and until now has been totally unheard of in this country."


Inside the accomodation

In a statement, S&A Produce said: "We do not operate a yellow card disciplinary scheme, and our disciplinary and grievance procedures are well documented, and have been agreed by the Transport and General Workers' Union."

Answering suggestions there are not enough strawberries to pick during the summer, the company added:

"This season we have employed some 3,900 workers, picked 11,000 tonnes of soft fruit, using some 22 million punnets, as well as five million cobs of sweet corn.

"Over the years we have employed more than 15,000 people, and many of those have returned year on year to work for us."

As for the metal boxes, S&A points out they are commonly used throughout Europe on agricultural and construction projects.

There will be more of BBC Hereford & Worcester's exclusive interviews with migrant workers on Howard Bentham at Breakfast.

last updated: 29/11/07

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