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Lawyers Warn of Migrant Labour Crisis

Kate GardnerUK seasonal fruit and vegetable growers are already experiencing the beginnings of a migrant labour crisis pending the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, according to a specialist employment lawyer.

Kate Gardner, a partner in the employment & HR team at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, said there is a fear amongst the farming community that they will not be able to access the labour they need once the EU free movement law no longer applies in the UK.

This combined with the lack of clarity from the Government as to the post-Brexit immigration policy for those citizens of states remaining in the EEA, is leading to fears that the British fruit and vegetable industry could be crippled.

Kate Gardner said: “Whilst a migrant labour crisis in both the agriculture and horticulture sectors is to be expected with Brexit and the loss of free movement of workers, the general uncertainties associated with Brexit as well as the weak pound have already impacted on the seasonal growers, with employers reporting to be experiencing the worst labour shortages since 2004.”

The UK agriculture and horticulture sectors have long relied on migrant labour. Recent surveys estimate that 27,000 people from other EU member states worked in UK agriculture last year.  A further 116,000 EU nationals worked in the UK’s food manufacturing sector. During peak seasons, farmers are further dependent on a large temporary workforce, thought to be around 75,000 strong, to supplement regular permanent staff in harvesting crops.

Kate continued: “The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme which was introduced in 1945 to address post-war labour shortages, allowed fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania to do short-term low-skill agricultural work such as strawberry picking and other fruit harvesting for a maximum of six months.  This was extremely useful and beneficial to UK farmers but unfortunately the Scheme was closed at the end of 2013.

“Submissions have been made to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee that a new Agricultural Workers Scheme needs to be implemented with immediate effect. The Government says it currently has no plans to introduce a new scheme but it does recognise farmers’ concerns and advises that farmers should be encouraged to boost productivity by making full use of farming technologies.

“Yet whilst Brexit has given the research and development of technologies such as robots a fresh impetus, experts predict that we are at least five years away from the development of a robot that can pick delicate soft fruits such as strawberries with the speed and delicacy of a human.

“As with any aspect of Brexit, this is an evolving situation and one which we continue to watch carefully.”

Clarke Willmott LLP is a national law firm with seven offices across the country, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

For more information about Clarke Willmott visit www.clarkewillmott.com.

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