FARM­ERS STRUG­GLING TO FIND SEA­SONAL WORK­ERS

Countryfile Magazine - - Fishermen’s Jumpers - JOHN CRAVEN Watch John on Coun­try­file on Sun­day evenings on BBC One.

“We need re­as­sur­ance that we will be able to source a re­li­able and com­pe­tent work­force”

Long be­fore Brexit kicks in, one of its po­ten­tial im­pacts was felt in our fields and or­chards this year dur­ing the har­vest. The num­ber of mi­grant sea­sonal work­ers from coun­tries such as Ro­ma­nia, Poland and Bul­garia who pick and pack fruit and veg dropped by be­tween 13% and 17% and, in some places, crops rot­ted in the fields.

The sea­sonal work­force is around 80,000 and some of the ab­sen­tees had been com­ing here for years – they knew the ropes and for a few months played a vi­tal role in Bri­tain’s agri­cul­tural well-be­ing be­fore go­ing home a lit­tle bet­ter off.

“This sea­son they didn’t make the jour­ney and I’m re­ally wor­ried about what will hap­pen next year,” says Ali Cap­per, chair­man of the NFU’s hor­ti­cul­ture and potatoes board. “I’m not see­ing any­thing that makes me feel pos­i­tive. On my farm we have 25 Pol­ish work­ers and this sea­son three of them let us down. Across the coun­try, it has meant that those who did turn up had to work harder and longer and even then some crops were go­ing to waste.”

She says sev­eral things have caused the down­turn in labour. “The economies are im­prov­ing in their own coun­tries, the weak pound has af­fected their wages so Ger­many, France and Bel­gium are more at­trac­tive and closer, and be­cause the xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tude in some sec­tions of the me­dia fil­tered down to them at home, they felt there might be hos­til­ity to­wards them,” she said.

The Gov­ern­ment has asked its agri­cul­tural ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to look into the sit­u­a­tion and report back by Septem­ber next year but the NFU is urg­ing for an in­terim report to be pub­lished by Christ­mas. “Next au­tumn will be too late for our in­dus­try,” Cap­per tells me. “We need re­as­sur­ance now that we will be able to source a re­li­able and com­pe­tent work­force in the fu­ture.”

SEA­SONAL SO­LU­TION

One an­swer, say many farm­ers, is to bring back the Sea­sonal Agri­cul­tural Work­ers Scheme (SAWS), which op­er­ated from 1948 un­til 2013 and granted per­mits of up to six months to peo­ple from within the EU, but also from coun­tries such as Rus­sia and Ukraine, who had guar­an­teed jobs on British farms.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion Mi­gra­tion Watch ar­gues that in­stead of rein­tro­duc­ing SAWS the Gov­ern­ment should “bol­ster ef­forts to en­cour­age Bri­tons into such jobs” by rais­ing wages and im­prov­ing work­ing con­di­tions. The in­dus­try, it adds, should in­vest in tech­no­log­i­cal change to in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity.

But oth­ers say this won’t solve the prob­lem. “Let’s face it – British work­ers want full-time, not sea­sonal, jobs and in midWorces­ter­shire, for ex­am­ple, there are only about 550 job­less and we need 800 work­ers. It’s be­com­ing nail-bit­ing,” says Derek Wilkin­son, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of a farm­ing group that grows salad crops and veg­eta­bles and em­ploys 2,500 sea­sonal work­ers across the UK. “By the end of the sea­son, we were around 150 peo­ple down and just man­aged to get through, partly be­cause de­mand was down.

“All the time we are work­ing to­wards more au­toma­tion but we have not yet got that driver­less ma­chine that will pick a field of spring onions and put them into nice bunches. We are a long way from do­ing ev­ery­thing with ro­bots – many crops are frag­ile and dif­fi­cult to han­dle. We will al­ways need peo­ple – but where will we get them from?”

Mi­grant sea­sonal work­ers have long been key to a fruit­ful har­vest. A drop in sea­sonal mi­gra­tion has farm­ers wor­ried

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.