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‘No running water’: foreign workers criticise UK farm labour scheme | Workers’ rights

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Seasonal workers in the UK on a post-Brexit pilot scheme to harvest fruit and vegetables were subjected to “unacceptable” welfare conditions, according to a government review.

Issues cited by workers included a lack of health and safety equipment, racism, and accommodation without any bathrooms, running water or kitchens.

The UK launched the seasonal workers pilot scheme in 2019 after concerns about a shortage of labour for harvesting jobs on farms on leaving the EU. Most of the 2,481 workers who came to the UK under the scheme were employed picking soft fruits, almost entirely on farms in England and Scotland.

A UK government survey of workers found that workers had not been given employment contracts in their native language; had not been provided health and safety equipment, as they had been promised and were legally required to do; and that they had been subjected to unfair treatment by farm managers, including racism, discrimination and mistreatment, allegedly on the grounds of workers’ nationality.

Recruitment presentations to potential applicants for the pilot scheme were sometimes found not to have accurately reflected the accommodation, which was mostly on the farms. In the survey, 15% of respondents said their accommodation was neither safe, comfortable, hygienic nor warm, and 10% said their accommodation had no bathroom, no running water and no kitchen.

The findings have raised concerns that conditions for foreign workers in the UK’s agricultural sector have not improved in recent years, despite commitments to crackdown on exploitative conditions.

A Scottish government-funded review last year also found seasonal workers reporting degrading and unsafe living conditions, as well as poor health and safety practices.

The Morecambe Bay tragedy in 2004, in which 23 Chinese cockle-pickers drowned while harvesting the shellfish, prompted the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which became the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in 2017, to combat labour abuses.

The GLAA’s remit includes ensuring workers receive a minimum wage, adequate accommodation, safe transport, proper contracts and decent working conditions.

The recruitment operators Concordia and Pro-Force were selected to manage the pilot phase of the scheme, which required the firms to “maintain high standards of immigration control and migrant welfare”.

The scheme has recently been extended to 2024, with two additional firms licensed to bring workers to the UK for employment in the horticulture sector. Up to 30,000 visas are available for this year – with a further 10,000 if demand allows.

The joint review by the Home Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, published on 24 December, said that the pilot had protected workers from modern slavery and other labour abuses but that other “alleged welfare issues identified are unacceptable”.

It said the Home Office had reviewed the requirements placed on the scheme operators and updated the seasonal worker sponsor guidance to tighten the compliance requirements.

Pro-Force said it did not want to comment at this stage.

Concordia said the report had identified that most workers found the scheme met their expectations and either wanted to return or would recommend it to a friend or relative.

“Over the last three years, we have worked with various government departments in an iterative and collaborative way to continually improve and expand the scheme,” it said.

“As a charity, we take the utmost care to try to ensure that workers recruited on this scheme have a beneficial experience in the UK; as a labour provider we strive to ensure that our member farms get the labour they need in order to feed the nation.”

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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion

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The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.

The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.

The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.

Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.

“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.

After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.

Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.

Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.

According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.

Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.

The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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