Growers visit Ukrainian universities to maintain links with seasonal workers

A group of leading growers has visited Ukraine on a trip to maintain links with universities that provided seasonal workers before the expansion of the EU.

The trip was organised by the recently retired chief executive of Concordia (YSV) Christine Lumb. Concordia is a charity that provides young people with opportunities for international work experience.

Hayloft Plants director Derek Jarman said: "There is a labour-supply issue. Pre-EU enlargement we used labour from the old Soviet countries Ukraine and Belarus under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). When the EU enlarged we got SAWS workers from Romania and Bulgaria. The problem as an industry is that, when the economy of Europe picks up and Poles return to Poland, growers will be faced with a potential shortage of labour.

"Concordia and HOPS have links with Ukrainian universities and were supplying 200 to 300 workers a year to the UK until two or three years ago. There are very few coming now because of UK political changes. We were in the Ukraine to tell them 'don't give up'. Concordia still has a scheme bringing in 20 students who spend half the time in a teaching environment and half earning money."

He added: "We're concerned for the future. There is no problem this year and for 2010 for labour but we had a problem three years ago with strawberries left to rot in the fields due to labour shortages. Agriculture and horticulture are the first to suffer because people don't want to work outside. At Hayloft we needed 12 to 16 seasonal workers but could only recruit one locally."

Jarman explained that it was important to maintain links with Ukrainian labour sources. He said: "SAWS brought in 15,000 to 20,000 people from outisde the EU, but in five years' time the eastern European economy may be stronger and they will go back. Then we will need workers from Ukraine again."

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