Practical and legal tips for farmers managing migrant workers

Employment laws for migrant workers are no different to those for any employee but extra attention or effort must to given in some areas to make things run smoothly, say advisers.

From a practical perspective, introducing them to the locality, integrating them into the team, and making sure they understand routines and why things are done in a certain way will be important.

See also: Retirement age laws: What farm employers need to know

The dairy team at consultant Andersons offers the following tips on how to make it work:

  • Reward hard work properly; do not try and cut corners; pay what you would expect to pay any good employee in that role; do not treat them as secondary to local labour.
  • Use salaries, not hourly rates, otherwise there is no control. The aim of migrant workers is often to build up funds as much as possible in order to send money home – hourly rates may incentivise time-wasting.
  • Have clear protocols in place (written in native language and English) – for example all health and safety-related policies and also any workplace routines relevant to the job they are doing.
  • Ensure good working conditions, appropriate hours, week or days off, welfare facilities, toilets, kettle, break area and so on. Good agricultural facilities in terms of infrastructure, parlours, buildings will also be important.
  • Employing more than one worker from the same country (or indeed a couple) is often preferable, but not always practical.
  • Help with integration into the local community – provide assistance in sorting healthcare/finding schools, telling them about local area, what to find where.
  • Manage their holidays, according to when your operations are most able to work without them, but also enabling them to take them in large chunks, so they can go home.
  • Make sure they are legal with vehicles and aware of all health and safety legislation, check they have appropriate licences.
  • Make time to understand their culture/background/family – this enables a good employer to better manage their staff in terms of understanding their employee, specifically with regard to employee aims and objectives.
  • Integrate them into the business, create a team spirit focused on achieving business goals.
  • Focus on key actions and or deliverable targets – for example milk quality or mortality rates.
  • Do not underestimate the value of a thank you.

Stay legal when employing staff from abroad

There are some important legal basics when employing migrant workers, says Karen Bates, partner in the employment team at law firm Foot Anstey.

“All employers must check that workers have the right to work in the UK, even if they are working for you on a short term or temporary basis. UK Visas and Immigration carries out compliance visits during which they examine personnel records and interview your workforce,” she says.

“If you are found to have employed someone who does not have permission to work in the UK, penalties range from a fine of up to £20,000/worker to a criminal prosecution and imprisonment for having knowingly employed illegal workers.”

Who is entitled to work in the UK?

“Workers who are citizens of the European Economic Area (EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or Swiss nationals are able to work in the UK without restriction.

You must keep a copy of their passport as this proves their right to work.

“You may also be able to employ other workers who have a visa allowing them to work in the UK, for example a spouse visa or someone who has lived in the UK for more than five years and has settlement.”

Visas should clearly show the right to work in the UK. This must be checked regularly.

For answers to questions on whether a visa is valid, the UK Border Agency has an employer helpline on 03001 234 699.

Individuals should not be allowed to start work before you are sure of the position, advises Ms Bates.

“For short-term labour in busy periods many farm businesses use labour providers.

You should always ensure that these are licenced by the Gangmasters Licencing Authority (GLA.)

The GLA website has a facility to check whether the labour provider is properly licensed at

What if the employee does not have English to a level where they could understand written policies or other documents?

“There are no formal legal provisions on this in immigration guidelines but it would be a health and safety/negligence issue.

The employer should ensure that all health and safety information, instructions and training needed to work safely can easily be understood by all workers and provide these in alternative languages where this would assist.

“The employer should also ensure that all health and safety signs and diagrams are clear and can be easily understood.

“Pictorial signs would assist. If working with a labour agency, check that they provide adequate health and safety training that can be understood by all migrant workers.”

Webinars on demand

Several Farmers Weekly webinars are available to view including topics such as Agribanking, Succession and Tax, OSR yields and more.
Watch now