In response to the Home Office press release ‘UK farmers given support for seasonal labour with new pilot scheme’, published early in September, Nick Marston made the following statement:
“We welcome the recognition by government of the need for non-EU workers in horticulture in the UK and for the introduction of a SAWS scheme, albeit a ‘pilot’. However, UK horticulture employs 60,000 seasonal staff from the EU annually, with berries alone accounting for 29,000 workers. Our farms are reporting staff shortages of 10-20% already, and to have any effect in terms of supporting our successful industry, around 10,000 are needed now, not 2,500, this number will have little effect on the current shortages UK farms are facing. The proposal represents a 4% increase in a shrinking workforce, the UK berry industry grows by at least 8% per annum and this will not sustain a standstill, let alone growth.
“The last UK SAWS scheme allowed, in 2013, 21,250 workers to enter the UK from Romania and Bulgaria prior to their accession to the EU; we then had unfettered access to workers to the ‘EU 8’ and still needed over 21,000 extra staff each year. Employment in Romania is rising rapidly and the availability of seasonal workers from the EU2 countries, mainly Romania, is falling at a rate that would suggest that, to be of assistance, a non-EU SAWS scheme from now and into the future will need to provide similar numbers as the 2013 quota of over 20,000 workers, but now from non-EU countries, both in the next two years and beyond. The British berry industry is a great success story, we are nearly 100% self-sufficient for a long period of the year, and we need this level of support if we are to continue to thrive and grow.
“Whilst we appreciate the need for government to manage the scheme, we would ask for further clarification on how they see this moving to a sustainable longer-term solution that can provide for the shortage in labour we are already dealing with. We also urge a discussion on who is licensed to recruit staff under the scheme, and the number of proposed operators, as we would be concerned that having too few operators has the potential for undesirable effects in a number of areas.”