Well, boo hoo, eh?

Fruit and vegetable farms across the UK were left short of thousands of migrant workers in 2017, leaving some produce to rot in the fields and farmers suffering big losses.

More than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled, according to new survey data from the National Farmers Union (NFU), which covers about half the horticultural labour market. The survey, seen exclusively by the Guardian, shows more than 99% of the seasonal workers recruited came from eastern Europe, with just 0.6% from the UK.

Since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016, growers have warned repeatedly of damaging labour shortages, with recruiters reporting that Brexit has created the perception among foreign workers that the UK is xenophobic and racist.

The government, which has pledged to reduce immigration, has so far rejected calls to reinstate a seasonal agricultural workers scheme (Saws). Facing uncertainty over labour, some farmers have begun moving their production overseas.

The NFU labour survey found that an average of 12.5% of vacancies went unfilled in 2017, the first time there has been a shortfall since the survey began in 2014. The proportion of workers returning to work in the UK after previous years is also dropping fast, from 41% in 2016 to 29% in 2017. The fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote has also helped make the UK less attractive.

It’s the last sentence there which is important.

So farmers will have to raise the wages they offer. So sad, eh?

29 comments on “Well, boo hoo, eh?

  1. ” Brexit has created the perception among foreign workers that the UK is xenophobic and racist.”

    Sounds highly unlikely it’d bother them. There’s ample E. European workers in both Spain & France. And they’ll be under no illusion the French & Spanish are anything other than xenophobic & racist. Take a pride in it, even.

  2. Well, the East Europeans weren’t coming here to frolic in the fields with the sheep – they needed the money & were prepared to do a crappy job to get it. They’re probably unskilled, since they’re pulling turnips out of the ground, so where did they go to earn the money instead? Who’s the competitor for cheap unskilled labour?

    Good news for them though, if their labour’s in demand they’ll get a pay rise this year.

  3. But surely the Grandidad should be celebrating this increase in equality?

    Ukrainian turnip pullers (thanks Raffles) so rich now that they sneer at the exchange rate and quail at the racist chants of the yokels and decide to spend the summer at Cannes.

  4. Brexit has created the perception among foreign workers that the UK is xenophobic and racist.

    It is, of course, Remainers, with the Guardian and BBC at the head, who have created this impression with their knee-jerk insults to Leavers.

    People I know who voted leave, including myself, can be perfectly friendly with the Polish family down the road, and at the same time concerned at the prospect of 500,000 new permanent residents each year which cannot be slowed, let alone stopped, whilst we remain in the EU.

    Some of us also appreciate that tariffs imposed by the EU hurt consumers here and producers in 3rd world countries alike.

    A few of us would like to be able to remove, in a democratic election, those who create the laws we have to live under.

    Bet there is none of that in the Guardian piece.

  5. mike fowle – ““Some farmers have begun moving their production overseas” How?”

    I hear that Zimbabwe is trying to attract White farmers.

    Brexit means higher wages for the lowest paid workers in Britain? Naturally the Guardian is complaining.

  6. “Some farmers have begun moving their production overseas” How?

    By buying or renting land overseas. I know several large fruit growers that have done it- e.g. Haygrove in SA, HHP in Portugal.

  7. I quite like Poles, especially the kind that were happy when we strapped them into Spitfires and unleashed them against the Krauts.

  8. To back up what BiS said, I’ve known some east Europeans who did agricultural work in Italy and got treated like crap – landowners and gangmasters were cruel and sexually aggressive and cheated them on wages. These were skilled workers too, but doing an unskilled job because even minimum wage labour in the West paid higher than following their trade or profession back home. They kept doing it until they found something nicer to do for the money – retail, cleaning or care work in the West, for example, was seen as more comfortable and prestigious even if it barely paid more than the agricultural work did, and by the 2010s wages in their home countries had risen so much that they were quite happy to go home in many cases.

    Wages in places like Poland and even Romania have risen really substantially since the early 2000s. That has reduced the “push” favour, just as the exchange rate has reduced the “pull”. Whether the UK government responds by allowing Ukrainians and Turks and Belarussians into the country on temporary visas to undercut them, or whether farmers just have to pay workers more and focus on higher end production of the cheap stuff doesn’t pay anymore, will be interesting to see. Be interesting to see just who is campaigning for poor vulnerable migrants to be paid less, too…

  9. ‘More than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled, according to new survey data from the National Farmers Union (NFU), which covers about half the horticultural labour market. The survey, seen exclusively by the Guardian’

    Exclusively? WTF? Were they too embarrassed to show the ‘data’ to anyone else?

  10. Good news for farm workers who will benefit form higher wages.

    Bad news for the rest of the British workforce who will see their pay and conditions worsen because immigrants will take of their wellies and work in factories and drive down pay and conditions.

  11. If farms are so desperate for pickers why haven’t I seen and adverts fro the jobs?

    And it’s so close to an untruth as to be an outright lie that British people don’t want to do farm work, they *can’t* *afford* to do farm work. When you are paying UK housing costs you can’t afford to spend three months in a caravan picking veg *and* *still* *paying* *for* *your* *home* (after all, where are your kids going to live? In the caravan with you?), whereas a Pole can spend three months in a Lincolnshire caravan picking spuds and make enough to pay more than a year’s rent back home.

  12. “If farms are so desperate for pickers why haven’t I seen and adverts fro the jobs?”

    I guess you didn’t look very hard? Fruit and veg producers are struggling to get enough people at the price they have traditionally paid. The reasons for this include those Tim has mentioned, most importantly the exchange rate. Another factor is that governments in Bulgaria and Romania have started paying large subsidies to people to go home, which is why the Bulgarians all left en masse in autumn 2017. Those countries are really suffering from a lack of workers.

    Fresh produce growers in the UK are responding in a variety of ways including mechanising harvest and packing where possible (eg lincolnshire veg harvest, pack line mechanisation and robotisation in both fruit and veg, automation of growing operations including new glasshouses with more bells and whistles which can be run by a couple of people). Some are responding by becoming more importers than producers and growing only token amounts in the UK for labelling purposes, sometimes also setting up direct production operations in other countries due to labour and timing advantages, moving operations within the UK to places where there are large settled low skilled immigrant populations, sending people to Romania and Bulgaria to recruit directly and, finally, paying more where labour is not replaceable. Some producers are paying up to £15 per hour for some manual jobs at this point. There is good competition for such work and they can pick the best which keeps the labour cost per kg acceptable.

    They are rarely bothering to advertise hard in the UK because British people will not do those jobs for that price and would rather drive a van or work in Costa where good English gives them a distinct advantage over non speakers. They do advertise though, in fact I think they are required to. Maybe check your local job centre if you want to see an advert? Of course they are advertising and recruiting in the UK for management positions.

    In Eastern Europe, particularly Poland which is growing fast in agricultural production, there is also a huge labour shortage as Poles become more affluent. This is solved due to the porous nature of the Ukranian border, an option not available for Western Europe. Inevitably as Bulgaria and Romania modernise and get richer, the EU will be expanded south and east in order to continue the supply of cheap labour. Moroccan and Turkish migrant workers can’t be far off. Another good reason to leave asap.

  13. @ jgh
    Continuing to pay for *your* home is a self-cancelling item in the equation – you have to pay it whether working on a farm or not. The problem is that the benefit system reduces payments by 100% (pre-UC) and 70% under UC of the gross income, ignoring associated costs, so if travel and accommodation costs and the higher cost of buying lunch and supper instead of your wife providing you with a packed lunch and cooking supper and National Insurance make up, between them, 30% of gross income you’re worse off; if they make up 20%, it’s not worth the effort..

  14. I’m no expert in this area; but I often drink with agriculturals, and what Tomsmith says makes a lot of sense.

    For my part, I favour the gradual phasing out of all agricultural subsidies (perhaps with some exceptions for special landscapes). However, to ensure security of supply of food stuffs, the UK needs a strong navy and air force…

  15. “Fruit and vegetable farms across the UK were left short of thousands of migrant workers in 2017, leaving some produce to rot in the fields and farmers suffering big losses.”

    Name one. I’ll pop round and explain to these farmers about this thing called PYO.

  16. I agree that subsidies need to be phased out for the majority of the agricultural sector in the UK, and I work in that area.

    Growers are only moaning because it would be easier for them to continue to be inefficient and to throw cheap labour at every problem. Along with Holland and Spain we are one of the countries in the world with the most expertise in growing fresh produce, flowers and other cash crops. We are also uniquely blessed in terms of conditions for arable and livestock production. We would be absolutely fine without subsidies and in fact it would be good for the industry because it would clear out inefficient and backwards producers and make opportunities for the experts to step in.

    Agree that continuing to pay say, Cumbrian hill farmers, is not a bad idea (example of a group that can’t make any money, but whose activities produce a nice looking landscape), as long as not over done or over managed by bureaucrats.

  17. Theophrastus” However, to ensure security of supply of food stuffs, the UK needs a strong navy and air force…”

    +1

    Absolutely agree, although I would focus the whole armed forces on the Navy, with air being under navy control and army being a small expeditionary force deployed by sea or air as required.

    We are an island- we need an excellent navy in order to protect our interests. This kind of focused armed forces would allow us to go back to being what we always have been; free traders, innovators, flexible and open, with a fuck you attitude to pointless regulation and no qualms about feeding off the bloated corpses of things like the Spanish empire, or its modern equivalent the EU.

  18. “Name one. I’ll pop round and explain to these farmers about this thing called PYO.”

    There is zero profit in pick your own. The public eat approximately 50% of what they pick, damage the plants, pick under ripes, and generally complain about everything. Any PYO operation also gets several law suits per year from people who went into the wrong tunnels and picked the sprayed strawberries (ignoring signs) or spiked their eye on a wire trying to break into somewhere they were not supposed to be.

    Add the fact that if you are anywhere near a city Pakistanis will come every day, pick fruit, then sit and eat it, make a huge mess, and pay for absolutely nothing. You end up having to throw them out, which looks a bit racist.

    PYO is a nightmare, and the only people continuing to make any money doing it are using it as an alternative attraction among many play barns, farm shops, cafes, car racing and so on. PYO usually the biggest money drain on any such business.

  19. I can imagine Pakistanis going crazy on coaches doing day trips to Yarmouth from the midlands and passing all the free food in Norfolk.

    I would imagine PYO in Norfolk dosen’t suffer quite as bad as you make out tomsmith…the bastards are still quite rare here.

  20. When I was a student in the ’80s I had the option of summer work living in a hut on a farm for £40/w plus food and board or work living in a hut on an activity camp for £40/w plus food and board. I did the activity camp.

    The next summer I worked out I would make more money by signing on, with the added bonus of having more time to get on with things I wanted to do.

  21. tomsmith: I’ve just spent 30 seconds searching for “farm work near (my home)” and following the first six matches titled variancts of “Farm Work Vacancies in/near X” gives zero farm work vacancies. Reducing the specifity of the search and skipping past all the “McDonalds’s on Farm Road” stuff I find a “Volunteer Animal Care Assistant”, a 3-day-£8/hr stock hand 40 miles away that requires experience, and a Sprayer/Cultivator/Driller 50 miles away at £8/hr that requires PA1/PA2 qualifications.

  22. PYO still works in west midlands and Staffordshire.
    And yes there are usually lots of adverts for pickers.

    Just who wants to get up early, do hard work and get paid what they see as low wage?

  23. Jgh: “I’ve just spent 30 seconds searching for “farm work near (my home)” and following the first six matches titled variancts of “Farm Work Vacancies in/near X” gives zero farm work vacancies.”

    Where is your home and where are you looking? Also bear in mind what time of year it is. Not many pickers required at the moment.

    When I was a farm manager we advertised unskilled labour in the local job centre as a kind of box ticking exercise, then went to recruitment agencies like Hops for the eastern Euros who filled 99% of the roles. Every year there were a couple of English sent by the job centre, but they usually hurt their backs or something and were generally gone in 2-5 days. The odd English guy that stayed stands out in memory because it was so unusual.

    “a Sprayer/Cultivator/Driller 50 miles away at £8/hr that requires PA1/PA2 qualifications.”

    Appallingly bad pay. Tractor driver should be on 30-40k salary, not min wage hourly. Maybe more for good spray operators. Perhaps you are in quite a marginal area?

  24. “More than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled” – that’s good, nobody wants crap work and all have better options.

    Its a bit like how we no longer offer jobs as ‘dog pure collectors’ (look it up, dog shit for the tanners)- there’s so little take up that potential employers don’t bother to advertise.

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