Farmers are used to looking into the future. However, a recent survey shows a new degree of uncertainty looms in the horizon to get post-Brexit farming in Britain.
A lot of the poll said they were experiencing increased difficulty in recruiting seasonal employees since the EU referendum.
Some suggested these labor shortages could lead to a drop in national food production followed by inflated costs of some produce caused by a entire reliance on imports. These shortages aren’t the consequence of any enforced changes in legislation, as Brexit discussions have to be finished.
This means that even if something such as the seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) (which allowed a set amount of eastern European workers to come and work on labour-short farms) is reintroduced, the sector might still be in hot water. A lack of seasonal labour has been a problem for British agriculture. Farms have sought employees from further afield as far back as the 14th century, once the business relied on itinerant employees from Ireland.
And while a few British employees engaged in seasonal labour up before the end of the 20th century, their desire to do so seems to have waned dramatically — hence the current reliance on researchers. Other reports of post-EU referendum labor shortages are indicative of things to come, as fewer migrant employees wish to operate in the UK.
This was attributed in part to the anticipation of an unwelcome reception in Britain because of potential racism and xenophobia, as well as the economic effect of the drop in value of the pound. To fight this former environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, suggested a return to property work for British youths, an idea met with derision by many.
A parliamentary report also analyzed labour constraints in farming and indicated that a long-term agenda of returning seasonal farm labour to native British workers.
However, the reality is, British men and women are highly unlikely to fill any positions left by researchers. It isn’t as straightforward as there being adequate labour available from the UK to execute the work. The situation is far more complicated.
The Country Commute
The complete functioning culture of the UK has transformed since British workers last filled seasonal farm work jobs to any substantial extent. Rural communities are transformed as a result of the “drift from the land” of sailors, and individuals from cities moving into the country or buying second homes, pricing possible farm workers out of the local housing industry.
Consequently, physically capable jobless people are now less inclined to reside anywhere close to the farms requiring employees. Transport systems in rural areas are restricted, and basic, temporary home is not likely to pull people away from comfy, permanent housing located close to friends and family.
The current benefits system additionally prevents the jobless from engaging in any kind of seasonal work as a result of inflexibility of registering off and on. Add this into the inconsistency of job accessibility itself, and there is little wonder why no compulsion is present to pick fruit.
Fruits of Hard Labour
The terms of seasonal work — non pay, physically demanding, long and unsociable hours do not help. They’re far from the expectations of the normal British worker, who is now culturally tuned into a 40-hour Monday to Friday program.
There is also a greater need for career progression, which is unlikely to occur in the area of fruit picking. These expectations contrast starkly with how farmers perceive the work ethic of Eastern Europeans. It is from this gap that the “idle” label has grown and been perpetuated by farmers and the press towards British employees.
But even if circumstances and incentives of picking fruit and veg have been enhanced, British workers would still be unlikely to perform it because of how this kind of work is sensed. Among other items, the task has come to be negatively related to migrant workers and slave labor.
Farmers have repeatedly tried to employ locals, with a drastically low rate of return, telling stories of few turning up for interviews as well as fewer returning after only several days of work. And while some gangmasters, who locate and supply workers at very low prices, and land managers are guilty to some degree for simplifying the cheap-labour cycle of migrant work within the industry, farmers have little power over price setting contrary to the urge of supermarket control.
This price squeeze leaves many farmers using their hands tied in terms of raising worker pay — the consequence of which would be higher costs for the consumer (with whom some of the responsibility lies).
Without enormous alterations to the rewards system, rural social housing, pay and conditions, the inherent culture and ideology surrounding seasonal farm labour, and transformations in customer buying habits, a future with no migrant workers does not look bright.
Mechanisation may one day be the response, but due to the fragility of soft fruits, that’s not yet feasible. Rather, without a fast solution, it’s quite possible that Britain’s fruit farms have been poised to follow the same sorry path already paved by dairy, where insufficient profitability and debt has caused mass close.