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Westcountry farmers fearing shortage of 'absolutely vital' fruit pickers

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 18, 2013

Westcountry farmers fearing shortage of 'absolutely vital' fruit pickers

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Westcountry farming leaders said it is "absolutely vital" the Government allows fruit pickers from outside Europe into the country to help keep the industry afloat.

Farmers want Whitehall to allow fruit pickers into Britain as they expect Romanians and Bulgarians to turn down the role in favour of other jobs.

Nearly 22,000 fruit pickers are employed each year under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme – an initiative targeted exclusively at Romanians and Bulgarians.

Temporary curbs were imposed on the two groups in 2005 to protect the British labour market.

But farmers in Devon and Cornwall now fear that when access restrictions to Britain are lifted for the two countries at the end of the year, Romanians and Bulgarians will ditch fruit picking in favour of other jobs.

Ian Johnson, NFU spokesman for the South West, said the dire weather during the 2012 season has more than demonstrated the challenges that growers face in producing such perishable crops.

He added: "But, while we'll never control what nature throws at us, one burden we can prevent hanging over our heads is the prospect of not having enough labour available on farm after the current SAWS arrangements expire in 2013.

"It is absolutely vital that work starts now on securing a successor to SAWS, particularly in an industry like horticulture where growers are always planning a few years ahead.

"The NFU – with the backing of several labour providers – has already submitted proposals on a successor to SAWS, which government is considering.

"We have also had constructive discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss possible incentives to attract more of the resident workforce into the horticulture sector.

"With the current high level of unemployment our industry must be seen to do everything it can to maximise the potential of UK workers as well as making proposals for a continuation of a migrant labour scheme.

"It is not an understatement to say that SAWS has been the biggest contributory factor in the expansion and progression of horticulture in the UK in recent years by providing growers with a hardworking, flexible, well-educated migrant workforce.

"We need government to act swiftly in securing a successor to the SAWS scheme, so as to ensure a smooth transition after 2013.

"After all, growers can rise to the challenges of growing their crops but will fail if there is no labour for the harvest."

The call comes in response to a stark warning from Professor David Metcalf, chairman of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

He said: "There are 21,250 workers allowed into horticulture each year who can work for a maximum of six months. "It's a well-designed scheme, running since 2008 solely for Romanians and Bulgarians.

"In 2014, Romanians and Bulgarians will have completely free access to the labour market – will they decide instead to work in hotels, pubs and Tescos instead?

"Will there be enough people to pick the strawberries?"

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  • nocoment  |  February 18 2013, 8:54PM

    has cameron forgotten that he is suposed to be looking after"" great britain" rather than the rest of the world india has one of fastest growing economies in the world how about them giving us a grant at a less rate than brussels then we can employ devon and cornish pickers

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  • nocoment  |  February 18 2013, 8:43PM

    if farmers paid£ 5.00 per hour and the rest in produce that the pickers can sell or give to out of work families then we are all looking after the comunity

  • eu_blues  |  February 18 2013, 1:39PM

    "We have also had constructive discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss possible incentives to attract more of the resident workforce into the horticulture sector. This is Cornwall How about £8.00 an hour with the incentive of an NVQ in basic Fruit picking with colleges teaching students the art of how to pick a good apple, plum, pear and strawberry. I suspect this government would only be too glad to fund such a course. That will entice people to the job,lol.

  • CrazyCosmic  |  February 18 2013, 11:23AM

    When you can't get unskilled spotty teenagers our of bed to pick fruit for the minimum wage then you know something is wrong with the system. Stay in bad and claim benefits is the better option.

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  • MrMikeHunt  |  February 18 2013, 10:40AM

    When you pay benefits so high of course you are not going to get people to work for a minimum wage. These jobs are very unskilled, the sort of level the minimum wage is set for. The sort of jobs no unskilled person in this country takes anymore because they are better off on benefits. No jobs say the socialists, benefits to high is the reality.

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  • josdave  |  February 18 2013, 10:20AM

    Why not get all those on jobseekers allowance to do it. The minimum wage on top of their benefit would be a great help instead this government is doing all it can to discourage employing local unemployed. On top of that Cameron has just annouinced he is going to double aid to India whoi have a much faster growing economy than us. What a crazy world we're living in. I have even heard that flower/fruit picking jobs are only for Eastern Europeans which if it is true is disgusting.

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  • buzzzz  |  February 18 2013, 10:06AM

    It would be ok if British workers were allowed to do these jobs instead of favouring foreign workers. Its rubbish if they say that not enough British want to do it. Farm work, whether it be daffy picking, potatoes and fruit is more often now offered to workers from abroad, leaving us with nothing. There are plenty of people down here that have worked the land for over 20 years and they are finding it more difficult obtaining work because foreigners are made to work on minimum wage instead of piecework, saving the farmers a fortune. Take into account the £60.00 a week for each person they charge for renting a caravan which holds eight workers (£480.00) of course they are not going to employ British locals when they are raking in nearly £20,000 a week on some farms. Been there, got many a T shirt.

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  • willythefish  |  February 18 2013, 10:05AM

    Here's a novel idea - why not pay a living wage to attract local labour?

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