By Alex Gageanu, VineWorks

As an industry, we are reliant on skilled vineyard workers all year round for pruning, harvesting and the myriad of annual tasks in between.

“The landscape of sourcing and retaining labour has changed dramatically in the 17 years since I started VineWorks,” comments James Dodson, CEO. “Whilst there is a move towards introducing more mechanisation in the vineyard, there will always be a need for trained, experienced workers. Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have altered the availability of seasonal workers and there are many more challenges we face in ensuring our industry remains a viable, sustainable and dynamic career option. However, at the heart of all employment is the necessity to ensure our staff are happy, healthy and abiding by all the legal requirements.” 

All labour providers must comply with the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) rules and guidelines, ensuring their staff work in a safe environment. Unfortunately, modern slavery still exists today. The government estimates that there are thousands of people in modern slavery in the UK – it’s all around us, often hidden in plain sight. 

Some employers and labour providers do not always recognise the signs of third-party labour exploitation within their business or know how to deal with it once it is uncovered. Sadly, some will unintentionally allow recruitment or supervisory models to exist that permit such exploitation to flourish. 

Forced labour is the most common form of slavery in the UK, being present in every industry. The number of people identified as victims has been rising year on year with over 10,000 people referred to authorities in 2019. In 2022, that number is estimated at 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK. 

There are many signs that someone may be in slavery, including but by no means limited to: 

  • not having personal identification on them 
  • not being able to communicate or move around freely 
  • appearing frightened, withdrawn or showing signs of physical or psychological abuse 
  • being dropped off and collected from work by unknown persons at unusual times 

The GLAA, Stronger Together, and the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) are all working hard to provide businesses with support and training to navigate through this challenging environment. 

  • The GLAA is an intelligence and investigative Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) for labour exploitation in the UK. They operate a licensing scheme to regulate businesses that provide workers. 
  • Stronger Together is a not-for-profit organisation providing businesses with practical training, resources and collaborative programmes. 
  • The ALP is a not-for-profit trade association promoting responsible recruitment so that labour provision is recognised as a model of sustainable good practice. 

We highly recommend visiting their websites which are full of useful practical advice and links to the training and support packages they offer. 

As a company, we ensure our employees are all correctly verified and that their paperwork is up-to-date with all the government requirements for the right to work in the UK. This includes checking original travel documents, (such as passports or ID cards) seasonal worker visas or share codes for settled or pre-settled status. 

All employers need to understand their workforce, make work more flexible and secure, and improve access to training and support. They must make sure their employees are treated fairly and have access to the necessary HR support, training and personal protective equipment before starting work in the vineyards. Everyone must be provided with a safe working environment that does not put their health at risk, whether in an office, working with machinery or outdoors in the vineyards. 

For vineyard owners using a labour provider, it is important to recognise your responsibilities as well. It is essential you comply with the relevant health and safety laws, including providing the workers with sufficient toilet facilities, running drinking water and covered shelter for break times. 

“At VineWorks, our vineyard team members are not just ‘seasonal workers’. We connect personally with our workforce by providing the best conditions we can through regular visits and listening to them to find ways to improve and work better together,” James emphasised. 

By ensuring everyone is aware of their responsibilities, the legal requirements for hiring a labour workforce and the potential red flags to look out for, we can all work together to maintain happy vineyard staff who take pride in their job and excel through expertise and experience. 

One vine at a time. One employee at a time.