Farmers highlight need for overseas workers

28 Dec 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Farmers are keen to see UK work permit regulations allow a new wave of overseas workers to come to Britain to work in rural jobs.

According to the National Farmers Union (NFU), unemployed Britons tend to be based around cities and there are very few who are interested in the seasonal work available in the countryside, such as picking fruit and vegetables.

With the restrictions on work for Romanians and Bulgarians due to be lifted at the end of 2013, farmers are concerned that the farmhands they rely on will seek alternative work in the cities thanks to their improved working rights. With this in mind, the NFU is keen for the government to allow a new immigrant workforce to travel and find employment in Britain for periods of up to six months.

Hayley Campbell-Gibbons, chief horticultural adviser for the NFU, told The Telegraph: "Without those 21,500 workers we simply won’t have enough people here to pick crops.

"In the past there have been years where we simply haven’t been able to get enough workers – not on that scale, but by a few thousand – and the result is that crops go unharvested and unpicked and food has to come in from elsewhere. There have been shortages on the shelves. It’s not somewhere we want to go again.”

The union's observations present an alternative viewpoint to that of those who are concerned about the relaxation of work regulations for Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK. The two countries joined the EU around five years ago and their numbers in Britain have swollen from around 30,000 to over 150,000 in that time, with further increases likely, prompting unease over the high levels of unemployment within the existing British population.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The Government has no current plans to introduce a replacement for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme after 2013, but we recognise the concerns of the agricultural sector and have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to look into this issue.”