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Coronavirus and your seasonal workers - new self-isolation rules

View profile for Phil Cookson
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In this Q&A (published 05 June 2020) we look at the new self-isolation rules for seasonal workers travelling to farms in England.

For farms with seasonal workers due to arrive from abroad on or after 8 June 2020, there is an extremely useful exemption from the general 14-day self-isolation rule. However, there is some small print that employers need to be aware of, and not all farms will be able to make use of the exemption.

  1. What types of production does the self-isolation exemption apply to?

The focus of the self-isolation exemption for seasonal workers is food and drink production, so farms benefitting are:

  • protected vegetables in glasshouse systems
  • field veg grown outdoors (including veg, herbs, leafy salads, potatoes)
  • soft fruit (outdoors and under cover)
  • trees that bear fruit
  • vines and bines
  • mushrooms.
  1. What kind of work is covered by the exemption?

The range of activities is widely drawn. It includes not only husbandry, maintenance and harvesting of crops, but:

  • packing and processing on the premises
  • irrigation installation and maintenance
  • tunnel construction and dismantling
  • preparation and dismantling of growing areas and media
  • general primary production work in edible horticulture
  • supervising teams of horticultural workers.
  1. What does self-isolating on the farm mean?

Exempt seasonal workers from abroad do not have to remain in isolation from other people who live or work on the farm. But they do have to self-isolate as far as people off farm are concerned; in other words, they must stay on farm for 14 days after arrival, except in certain limited circumstances. Those limited circumstances include seeking urgent medical assistance and shopping for essential food supplies if these cannot be obtained any other way.

  1. So, essentially, there is no difference in the way seasonal workers from abroad and local recruits are managed?

Yes, there is. For the first 14 days after their arrival, seasonal workers from abroad cannot go off farm, whereas their colleagues from the UK can.

But the social distancing practices you have put in place on the farm will apply in the same way to everybody, as will any testing or reporting regime. (The AHDB has produced a very useful guide on best practices to avoid the spread of coronavirus on fruit and vegetable farms, in collaboration with the NFU, The Association of Labour Providers, G’s Fresh and Defra.)

  1. Do we have to test workers coming in from abroad?

No, there is no requirement to test your workers. But if you have introduced initial or regular testing under your health and safety policy, then this will apply to seasonal workers from abroad in the same way as it does to local workers.

Roythornes has produced some guidance for farm businesses on new starters and the impacts of coronavirus.

  1. What if a worker from abroad shows symptoms of Covid-19?

He or she should self-isolate in the same way as any other worker, in accordance with the rules. If he/she is part of a cohort who live and work together, the whole cohort should self-isolate.

  1. Can I move an exempt worker from one production unit to another?

Not during the 14-day isolation period. The exemption requires a seasonal worker to self-isolate on a specified farm. Of course, after 14 days you will be able to move them to a different production unit (as long, of course, as they have not started to display any symptoms of the virus).

  1. What paperwork is needed for a worker to benefit from the exemption?

The worker will need to have:

  • an employment offer for seasonal work to carry out specified activities in edible horticulture
  • details of the specific farm where they will self-isolate, and
  • a letter from you which includes:
  1. the name and D.O.B. of the worker
  2. your details (and contact details)
  3. the employment start date
  4. details of the farm where they will be living.

Employers should ensure that their employment offer sets out details of:

  • the type of farm (e.g. soft fruit, leafy salad production – as set out above in Q1)
  • details of the types of activity the worker will be carrying out (as set out above in Q2)
  • the farm where the worker will be based (this should tally with the details in the letter)

and that it contains an explicit reference to the seasonal nature of the employment.

Please note: The above guidance is based on the law and official guidance as at 4 June 2020. It is intended as general guidance only. Feel free to contact Desley Sherwin  or Phil Cookson with any queries about the issues discussed.

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