U.K.: "We seem to have somewhat of a work ethic problem in this country"

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U.K.: "We seem to have somewhat of a work ethic problem in this country"

British apple and hops farmer Alison Capper knows first-hand how hard it is to recruit and retain temporary fruit pickers for her farm in England. Stocks Farm panorama

Every year she advertises for workers and every year the results are the same; a distinct lack of interest from the local community.

"We seem to have somewhat of a work ethic problem in this country which is demonstrated every year when I put adverts out in the local press wanting to recruit people from the local area to help with the harvest," Capper tells www.freshfruitportal.com.

"The response rate is extremely low, like one or two applicants from the local community, that is all.

"Then if we do take a person on, we find the fallout rate is very high so it's not really a feasible option for us to take on someone who does not really want to do the work."

Capper's comments follow last week's message from the U.K. Farming Minister George Eustice, who told the National Farmers' Union Conference there would definitely not be a replacement for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) that was scrapped at the end of 2013.

Instead, the minister wants to get Great Britain's unemployed off benefits and into low-paid jobs, like fruit picking, telling the conference the attitude of some jobless people was to shun the hard manual labor of agricultural work - something the government 'should not tolerate'.

Historically a migrant workforce has plugged the gaps in farm labor at harvest times under the SAWS legislation that allowed Eastern European workers to live and work in the U.K. for short periods of time.

AWS has been ditched at the same time as Romanian and Bulgarian nationals have gained full access into the EU and are allowed to work in other sectors that are better paid than temporary agricultural work.

"It is completely normal for people from other countries to travel and work on farms in richer countries like the U.K. It is simply a fact of life," Capper says.

"We hire between 40 and 60 seasonal workers every year depending on the amount of work. Our Polish workers for instance are extremely hardworking and anyone taken on from the local community cannot keep up and then they drop out."

Capper farms in partnership at Stocks Farm, Worcestershire with her husband and father-in-law, specializing in growing hops and apples on 82 hectares in the West Midlands, making her one of the largest hop, dessert apple and cider apple producers in the country.

At harvest time the volumes of apples are immense and  horticulturists need to recruit seasonal workers en masse who can preferably live on or very close to the farm.

"The nature of this kind of farm work requires people to actually live on the farm and when you look at the dynamics of employment for people at the lower end of the pay scale, this really does not seem to be viable for the majority of British people.

"The National Farmers’ Union claimed that the government was engineering a social experiment with this issue of seasonal workers and I agree with that. It is becoming increasing difficult to fill our vacancies even though we offer good working conditions and better rates of pay compared with the minimum wage. However, the work is very labor intensive of course.

"One of the benefits of SAWS was that migrant workers were guaranteed a job, would live on the farm for a given period of time, earn as much money as possible, do a good job, then go home again. We find local people just don't have the same kind of attitude."






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