Insurmountable difficulties in recruiting

By 2021 the UK will need 11,500 seasonal workers to manage and harvest an orchard-grown fruit crop of 322,000 tonnes, according to a report into the industry’s post-Brexit labour requirements launched at this year’s National Fruit Show. With the report noting that growers face ‘insurmountable difficulties’ in recruiting UK workers, the sector can only look towards the government for action.

“It is no use waiting until March 2019 when we leave the EU to see what happens,” said Steven Munday from English Apples and Pears who commissioned the independent study. “September 2018 is the deadline for a seasonal workers scheme to be in place. Without this the consequence for growers, consumers and the environment will be devastating.”

With the NFU now tracking labour shortages monthly, September’s figures demonstrated that one third (29.3%) of labour needed in the sector wasn’t available and while unemployment is at a record low (4.3% in the UK) there is labour shortage the industry has never seen before.

As every other country in Europe has a source of non-EU labour to help pick, pack and harvest fruit and veg, the UK is also at a competitive disadvantage when sourcing workers. Speaking at the pre-show conference, Ali Capper, NFU horticultural board chair, stated that politicians must make a decision on a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme this side of Christmas if the industry is going to avoid a catastrophe.

“Depending on who you speak to it will take between three to five months to get a scheme up and running,” said Mrs Capper. “The government has got to implement a new scheme for May 2018 and beyond enabling the labour shortfall to be propped up by a non-EU seasonal agricultural workers scheme. It doesn’t matter what the trade deal is if we haven’t got the labour to pick and pack our crop.”

Having a direct link to the workers, the recruitment sector is also echoing these sentiments with Douglas Amesz, managing director AG Recruitment saying: “The government need to start the process of giving us access to labour outside of the EU before spring. Should they wait until next summer we will not be able to respond quickly enough to bring people from outside the EU into the country until 2020.”

According to Mr Amesz the prospect of recruiting local people to fulfil these jobs is ‘quite frankly nonsense’ and with today’s industry demands there are ‘no western countries relying on local labour’ and looking towards home grown workers is ‘an excuse the government uses to temporarily brush the problem under the carpet’.

With a decision urgently required, show president, Michael Jack, encouraged growers to have eye-to-eye contact with their local MPs to enhance the pressure.

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