Growers should lobby over SAWS

Fruit growers should start lobbying politicians to relax the restrictions made by the Government to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS).

Speaking last week at Fruit Focus NFU/HSBC Fruit Forums, chairman Robert Mitchell of Concordia - which brings students from abroad to work on farms in the UK - said the shortfall of labour that is already resulting in crops going to waste could be eased if the current quota of just 16,250 workers, from Bulgaria and Romania only, was increased.

He also urged growers to lobby for an expansion of the scheme - which is currently being phased out - beyond 2010.

Mitchell said: "We could recruit twice the number of workers from these countries if it was not for the restrictions on SAWS."

Mitchell added that growers should make the case for Tier 3 of the new points-based immigration system - which classifies people into tiers according to their skills level - that is currently being phased in by the Government.

He said: "Tier 3 - meaning low-skilled workers - has been shelved indefinitely. So if we as employers want to bring in workers under this points-based system we would have to make our case very clearly and strongly."

He said the current rise in unemployment has, in the Government's eyes, made weaker the case for bringing in low-skilled workers from abroad - adding that confusion in the media between seasonal migrant workers and permanent immigrants has not helped.

"But we need to make the case for bringing in low-skilled workers on a points-based system," he said. "SAWS could easily be run on this points-based system if we can get the political green light.

"But just talking to politicians is not good enough. Good lobbying needs reliable statistics. We need solid evidence, hard facts - and we are looking to you, the growers, to provide that."

Aside from lobbying, Mitchell said there are number of "micro-level solutions" that growers can use to maximise their workforce. These include:

  • - select the right staff - for example, if growers have work that requires heavy lifting they should select people on that basis;
  • - use programmes such as the HDC's Champion Picker model;
  • - invest in mechanisation, such as picking rigs;
  • - offer workers better rates of pay;
  • - invest in better planning (harvesting schedules) to ensure that workers are drafted in at the right times;
  • - build up a good database of contacts (workers who want to return);
  • - make the working environment attractive.

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