U.K. seasonal migrant scheme removal could bring "devastating impact"

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U.K. seasonal migrant scheme removal could bring "devastating impact"

Farming officials fear for the future of the British horticultural industry after a scheme that has provided a vital source of migrant labor from Europe for more than half a century was scrapped. English farms - Flickr - William Hook

After 60 successful years of operation, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) is being ditched by the British government, and no replacement is planned.

Since the 1950s the scheme has allowed workers from all over Europe to take up vital seasonal jobs picking fruit and vegetables on British farms. Traditionally, the U.K. workforce has shunned these types of jobs and instead a large proportion of the workforce has been made up of pickers from Eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria.

The SAWS legislation has allowed European employees to work in the U.K. for six months at a time and farmers across Britain have been heavily dependent on the approximately 20,000 eastern Europeans for their manual labor.

However, next year Romania and Bulgaria will become full EU members under the Schengen visa zone which means they will have the right to take up jobs in any employment sector in the U.K. Many people believe this will lead to an exodus in the agricultural sector with Eastern Europeans instead favoring other types of employment.

Under the SAWS legislation, farmers could then turn to other non-EU countries such as the Ukraine to plug the labor shortage. But, once SAWS has lapsed, this will not be possible. This is despite recommendations from the Migrant Advisory Committee to the U.K. Government stating that SAWS should be replaced with a similar scheme.

National Farmers’ Union deputy president Meurig Raymond was angry the government ignored advice from the advisory committee, arguing the scrapping SAWS would lead to "contraction" in the sector and stunt overall growth.

"Our grower members will be rightly outraged at this decision by the immigration minister, which will have a devastating impact on the horticulture sector in the UK," Raymond told www.freshfruitportal.com in a statement.

"This decision completely contradicts Prime Minister David Cameron’s belief that farmers are the backbone of Britain and the recommendation of the Migrant Advisory Committee that horticulture would suffer immeasurably without access to a reliable, flexible and consistent source of migrant seasonal workers.

"Make no mistake; this will cause contraction in the British horticulture sector, one which is already suffering from falling self-sufficiency levels. It will put thousands of existing UK jobs at risk, stifle growth, compromise food security, and jeopardise the industry’s efforts to take on hundreds more UK unemployed for permanent work."

He adds that SAWS has been a successful tool for helping growers ensure a safe, healthy and affordable supply of food for 60 years.

Minister of State for Immigration Mark Harper disagreed, claiming there would be sufficient workers from within the U.K. and EU to meet the needs of the horticultural industry.

"It will close, as planned, at the end of 2013. The government does not intend to open any news SAWS for workers from outside the EEA as our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labor markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry," he said in a written parliamentary statement.

"The Agricultural Technologies Strategy will support innovation by agricultural businesses, which also help to offset future impacts.

"The Department for Work and Pensions has been working with JobCentre Plus and the National Farmers’ Union and others, including growers and horticultural recruitments firms, to help unemployed UK residents into horticultural work through training and guaranteed interviews."

Harper said encouraging results had been seen from a pilot scheme to help U.K. residents apply, train and secure jobs on arable farms, with a high proportion of participants going on to secure employment in the sector.

"We want to build on innovative approaches," Harper said.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, William Hook


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