According to Home Office figures quoted by the Daily Mail, the 2021 season has seen some 16,000 agricultural and horticultural workers enter the UK from 37 different countries, with people travelling from as far afield as Barbados, Nepal, Tajikistan, Kenya and the Philippines.
In 2020 the number of workers entering the country on seasonal workers visas was just 7,000, who came from 14 different countries. However, the figures are still almost half of the 30,000 workers allowed this year under the expanded scheme, and many Eastern European workers have still not returned following Covid and Brexit.
According to statistics, Ukraine provided the most fruit and veg pickers this year, followed by Russia, Belarus and Moldova, then Nepal and Bulgaria. The Mail reports that Barbados has provided more than 100 pickers, with the Caribbean island’s ministry of labour expecting the work to be popular as the minimum wage in Barbados is about £3 an hour – while fruit pickers in the UK can earn up to £20 an hour.
David Simmons, managing director of Riviera Produce told The Times that most of the 300 workers the company recruited this season had come from Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. “Over the last five years, we have been very reliant on Bulgarians and Romanians, but we have lost about half of our staff this year during the season,” he said. “They’ve just decided to go back home or to Germany or other countries, or they have become delivery drivers or taken jobs which are easier than working out in the fields. We’ve increased wages by 12 per cent to try to get them to stay and most earn between £15 and £20 an hour.”
Tom Bradshaw, of the NFU, commented, “Farm businesses have done all they can to recruit staff domestically, but even increasingly competitive wages have had little impact.”