Industry set for migrant workers shortage

Restrictions and lure of other work will hit labour supply

By Sophie Barnett Growers are bracing themselves for a shortage of EU migrant workers this season, as they opt to work in other sectors and laws restrict newcomers. Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) operators across the UK are reporting a decline in workers taking up the opportunity to work in agriculture and horticulture — with the soft fruit industry expected to be worst affected. Concordia said its EU recruitment figures show so far that it has only been able to fulfil half of its requests for workers for April. It has had 642 places to fill but still has 360 to find. Last year it filled all requests. Executive director Christine Lumb said: “As you would expect, now that workers from places like Poland have more choice about where they work because restrictions were lifted, they are opting to try new things.” Many are opting for better job security, choosing jobs in factories and the leisure industry, which are not seasonal and have contracts. Changes to the law are thought to have severely influenced the drop in workers — with next year expected to be much worse. From 2008, all SAWS workers will have to be sourced from new EU accession countries like Bulgaria and Romania. Already this year, 40 per cent have had to come from these countries, which has already had a negative impact on numbers. Lumb said: “We are lobbying the Government where we can — but I don’t think it expected figures to drop this quickly this year. It does not seem to act fast enough.” Labour provider HOPS Labour Solutions also said it was down on last year. General manager Jimmy Davies said it was down 12 to 14 per cent for the first three weeks of May, compared with 2006. He said everyone had to try to improve the profile of agricultural and horticultural work to overcome the drop in numbers. Davies said: “Try to hold on to the workers you have got and look at how you can improve anything as an employer. Collectively, we need to look after our reputation as an industry. Workers may go home and say they had a bad time on a strawberry farm in England and others think it’s all strawberry farms.” One soft fruit grower said: “This year will be a bit tricky but next year it will be really hard to get labour. That’s what we’re really worried about.”
  • Director of the 50 Club of SAWS operators Colin Hall said it has put on hold its plan to challenge the Government with a judicial review over the Home Office’s decision to force farmers to source 100 per cent of workers from Bulgaria and Romania in 2008. Following recent talks with Home Office officials, Hall said: “Our concerns were listened to and [the Home Office] said it would feed them back to ministers. We want it to reconsider how the source quota will be apportioned for 2008 onwards. For now, we are not pursuing a judicial review.”

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