Farming and horticultural organisations have met to discuss their opposition to the removal of a UK work permit scheme designed to allow the recruitment of migrant workers to pick British fruit and vegetables.
The Government is axing the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme (SAWS), which allows low-skilled workers from Eastern Europe to come to the UK to work on farms for a maximum period of six months. The scheme is mainly used by workers from Bulgaria and Romania but restrictions on people from those countries working in the UK will be lifted across the board in 2014.
However, the agricultural industry is concerned it will struggle to recruit workers willing to harvest next year’s fruit and vegetable crops once the scheme is scrapped at the end of the year.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has suggested keeping a SAWS-style arrangement in place to cover new countries joining the EU. It also called for a new version of the programme for the medium-term to ensure fruit and vegetables were not left rotting in fields because of a lack of labour.
NFU horticulture board vice-chairman Anthony Snell said: “This Government’s short-term decision to end the SAWS scheme will have long- term consequences for the horticulture industry and we wanted to pull together all of the labour providers to discuss our next steps.”
The British Growers Association also told The Farmers’ Guardian that removing the scheme would have consequences for the UK economy. It said if the UK could not harvest its crops, growers would not be able to meet the needs of food companies and they would instead turn to imported produce. This would also increase the price of British fruit and vegetables.