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Will the UK’s new quarantine rules affect agricultural workers?

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying UK lockdown have created significant amounts of uncertainty and disruption for British agriculture over the last three months, leading to major changes in the way many farms and companies operate. As the severity of the pandemic eases and the lockdown is relaxed, businesses are keen to get back to normal - but the government has made it clear that new rules will be necessary to achieve this.

One of the most high-profile regulatory changes introduced for this purpose are the new national quarantine rules, which mandates that anyone entering the UK from a high-risk country now needs to self-isolate for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus. However, there are exceptions and exemptions to this for seasonal agriculture labourers - a welcome development for the sector, given its historic reliance on overseas workers.

In order to ensure they are staying on the right side of the new legislation, agriculture employers need to make themselves aware of how the rules work, and what conditions must be met to qualify for the exemption. This will help ensure that any further COVID-related disruptions to their operations can be kept to a minimum.

When does the quarantine exemption for agricultural workers apply?

For the majority of travellers to the UK, the quarantine rules are non-negotiable. As of June 8th, anyone entering the country from a high-risk area - whether they be residents or visitors - need to travel directly to a location where they can self-isolate for 14 days, leaving the premises only if they have emergency requirements that cannot be fulfilled any other way.

These rules originally applied to travellers coming from any other country, but the regulations have since been amended to incorporate a “travel corridor” scheme, meaning those coming from certain exempt countries will not have to self-isolate. The full list of countries included in this scheme can be found on the government’s website.

However, for those travelling to the UK to work from a non-exempt territory, the quarantine period would make it impossible to start working for at least two weeks after arriving in the country. This is why certain exemptions have been made for specific types of labourer; within agriculture, this applies to seasonal agricultural workers who have received an offer of employment for seasonal work, and are due to carry out specific activities in edible horticulture on a named farm.

This exemption allows seasonal labourers to begin work immediately no matter which country they are travelling from, provided that they agree to self-isolate on the farm itself for 14 days. The process works as follows:

  • Workers must complete a Public Health passenger locator form with their journey and contact details, as well as the address of the farm where they will be working and staying. This information must be provided on arrival in the UK, alongside proof of their vocation
  • Upon arriving in the UK, workers must travel straight to the location, ideally with someone from the farm coming to collect them directly. Public transport is only to be used when no other options are available
  • During the first 14 days, labourers can begin working, provided that they follow social distancing rules and avoid contact with others on the farm. They are not permitted to leave the site unless there is an emergency-related need to do so

After the 14 days are over, workers can proceed according to the same social distancing and lockdown guidelines that apply to everyone else in the country

If staff experience COVID-19 symptoms at any point during this process, they will need to get tested for the virus and continue self-isolating for at least another seven days after their symptoms have cleared up.

The need for on-site accommodation

The new regulations will mean that many British farms will only be able to take on seasonal workers from anywhere in the world, provided that they have sufficient facilities on-site to accommodate labourers to stay there full-time for a period of at least two weeks. For those without existing space on their premises to house, shelter and feed a workforce, this creates a need for a bespoke temporary accommodation solution.

In these circumstances, hiring portable cabins - such as those provided by Bunkabin - could be an ideal solution. These robust, sturdy units provide spacious and comfortable living quarters for workers, as well as diners, toilets and shower blocks. Bunkabin’s units have been used successfully to house seasonal workers by agricultural employers across the UK, and can be delivered directly to your site at short notice in any quantity you require.

Bunkabin’s service model is flexible enough that you can responsively scale your accommodation provision as and when workers arrive. Our highly qualified team can install and remove cabins quickly and with a minimum of fuss, whether you only require accommodation for a two-week quarantine period or for a more extended duration.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created some serious challenges for British agriculture, but the easing of the lockdown - as well as the government’s willingness to provide these quarantine exemptions for seasonal workers - demonstrates an appetite to return to previous levels of productivity. By taking full advantage of portable accommodation, farms can ensure they are meeting their public health obligations and keeping their seasonal staff safe, while also taking an important step on the path back to growth.

To find out more about our offering for the agricultural sector, visit our Agriculture page. You can also get in touch with us today by calling 0345 456 7899, or by filling in our online enquiry form.

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