In the news today we hear of British farmers ‘flying in’ planeloads of understandably worried yet desperate for work Romanian and Bulgarian fruit pickers to shore up a major shortage of labour in the wake of Brexit and in the face of the Coronavirus lock down. 70,000 extra seasonal jobs are usually on offer during the Summer months to maintain the flow of food from producer to shop to people but since the Brexit referendum net migration from the EU has fallen by some 100,000 and now new travel restrictions have meant the arrival of new seasonal workers in this interim period means that the shortfall will have to be made up by UK workers. However, it is also being suggested that British workers are being by-passed in favour of an imported workforce. Sedgemoor Labour Leader Brian Smedley has investigated these claims and written to both Sedgemoor District Councils Economic Development section and the Agricultural Providers Consortium ALP (Association of Labour Providers) to get a response and at the same time to find the proper way for UK workers to apply for these jobs.
On March 30th Cllr Smedley flagged up the issue and called for a Land Army saying “Soon we’ll be looking at the situation in the countryside and on the farms as the harvest is due and people discover that the pre-Brexit EU seasonal workers aren’t there anymore. It’ll be time for a new Land Army….” Today, he adds “I would find it hard to believe that UK workers are being turned down as by all accounts farmers are desperate for people to help. However, one of the issues that be-deviled the EU debate was the claim that British workers wouldn’t do these jobs and at the same time East Europeans would. Now is the time to disprove that. Not only if people want to make Brexit work but also at a time of national crisis and when there are literally millions of UK workers unemployed, furloughed or willing to get involved in creating this much needed Land Army.”
Regional Thinking on the Subject
A Sedgemoor spokesman said “Economic Development is certainly aware of requirements for resources to support farmers. This issue is being looked at at a regional level as the NFU have been feeding into Strategic cross Heart of the South West groups such as HEROG. This group is made up of Chief Executive’s, Directors and Senior Economic Development Officers so it is something being investigated at the highest level across the region. In terms of how the message that people are required to support farmers in the picking of vegetables and fruit, a jobs launch pad that covers the whole of the Heart of the South West region is being developed that will provide information on job vacancies across all sectors including farming. The site is expected to be live early next week”
Cllr Smedley said “The important thing is that there is a trusted source for people to contact to ensure they get genuine access to the providers. My understanding is that information linking with NFU and other websites such as this one here will provide sign posting for people that are interested in supporting the Land Army Movement. Once the site is live Sedgemoor will be promoting it as a District through all of their communications channels in an effort to support farmers who require additional resources and individuals who are out of work.”
The Case for Migrant AND Home Based Workers
The Sedgemoor response continued “In terms of people being brought in from abroad our understanding is that it is 3 – 6 flights so in terms of number compared to the size of the problem it is a small number. On the flip side of that the recruitment drive does appear to be working based on the reports in the media which suggests that: “job search engines suggested that those recruitment efforts might be paying off. Total jobs said it had seen 50,000 searches for farming jobs in one week alone. It added that searches for terms such as “fruit picker” or “farm worker” had surged by 338% and 107% respectively. Indeed.co.uk said that there had been a huge spike in interest for fruit picker jobs in particular. Between 18 March and 1 April, there was an increase of more than 6,000% in searches for these roles on its website.Meanwhile, the number of UK users searching for “farm” or “farm worker” jobs had nearly tripled”.
The ALP (Association of Labour Providers) says that “The UK will need thousands of resident workers over the harvest season to pick our crops. Growers of various crops in the UK have relied principally on seasonal workers migrating on a temporary basis from other countries. With international travel limited by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a need for people who are living in the UK to fill these jobs. These jobs have always been available to people living in the UK but due to low unemployment figures and the seasonality there has been a low volume of take up within the UK. Workers must be over 18 years old as the work is physically demanding and Farming is considered a high risk sector. “
The ALP website here lists the recruiters and directs you to an application form.
A New Frontline in the Fight against Covid
Cllr Smedley concluded “The real danger is that crops will rot and food prices will rise. The UK needs around 70,000 pickers and the numbers being brought in from Europe are an extremely small but important part of this as many of these are skilled workers who were actually already recruited in the autumn. But the good news, if we are to make a go at Brexit or at uniting to fight off the consequences of the Covid crisis, is that it seems that British workers are now applying in large numbers…. but 1000’s more are still needed. The greatest need will be in May at the start of the spring harvest, followed by the next series of crops in June. However, a combination of Brexit and Coronavirus is the worse possible scenario. 436,000 jobs were identified (here) as being lost as a consequence of Brexit before this CV crisis started and post lockdown the economy is heading for meltdown with countless millions of people now not clear what their future will bring. The frontline of this war against Coronavirus is clearly our wonderful NHS but there’s a new front opening shortly and that’s our food supply. So we really need to fight it in the fields and hedgerows!”