Government plans for fruit and veg workers slammed

A government initiative to enable fruit and vegetable growers to recruit non-EU migrants as seasonal workers post-Brexit has been slammed as “too little, too late”.

The BBC reports the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had announced the scheme would run during a transition period after the UK leaves the EU between spring 2019 and December 2020. It would aim to help tackle labour shortages during peak production periods through the release of visas for up to 2,500 workers a year that will last for six months.

But commenting on the initiative, Peter Thomson, a director at soft fruit picking business Thomas Thomson, told Recruiter: “This government scheme, I would say, is too little, too late. Fruit and vegetable [firms] in the UK need close on 100,000 people; 2,500 is just nibbling at the edges. That’s what they should have done this year. They could have had a proper scheme in place. Having said that, I suppose you’ve got to welcome that they are doing something.”

Earlier this summer, the firm’s recruitment administrator Laura Woods told Recruiter the firm had reduced its reliance on recruitment agencies and was taking more of its recruitment efforts in-house. Updating Recruiter on how the firm was faring in its peak period, which starts in September, Thomson revealed the season has been going okay so far.

“We do have all the people that we need. In the past there has been a quite an exodus of people wanting to go home in September but so far this season we have been working hard to recruit and keep people happy, which is probably going to be the main thing. 

“Next year is going to be a lot harder because we may or may not have had Brexit by then but people from the EU will be thinking we’ve had Brexit whether we’ve had it or not.”

Also commenting on scheme, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation CEO Neil Carberry called the scheme a welcome recognition of the challenges farmers face but urged government to go further. 

“There are lots of other people involved in getting fruit and veg onto our tables once it’s harvested. Driving, warehousing, food production and hospitality are all sectors that face shortages.

“With employment at record highs, there is a real risk that a lack of labour could hit UK prosperity. We need an approach to workers from the EU that is open to all skill levels and controlled – ensuring those who come are here to work.

“Recruiters are Britain’s jobs market specialists and want to work with the government to build the new system – but it must start with the acknowledgement that many sectors already face critical labour shortages.”

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