The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has picked Concordia (UK) and Pro-Force as the operators of a pilot SAWS scheme set to bring 2,500 seasonal workers to UK farms. This is pending the labour firms' successful application for a sponsor licence.
The new scheme will be capped at just 2,500 a year as part of a two-year trial announced by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and the home secretary, Sajid Javid.
While welcomed as a step in the right direction, farmers’ associations say it barely addresses the needs of British summer fruit and vegetable growers, who employ 60,000 workers a year, mostly from eastern Europe. Many are now required all year round because of the boom in the sector.
“To have any effect in terms of supporting our successful industry, (a desire much-stated in the release) around 10,000 are needed now – not 2,500 – this number will have little effect on the current shortages UK farms are facing as we speak. The proposal represents a 4% increase in a shrinking workforce, said Nick Marston, the chairman of British Summer Fruits.
Farmers, and particularly summer fruit growers, have been protesting that they are already facing shortages this year, with the prospect of food rotting in the fields after Brexit. Under the pilot scheme, non-EU migrant workers will be able to work on farms for six months and then leave the country.
Gove said he had listened to the “powerful arguments” of farmers that the pilot would “ease the workforce pressures” and promised to review its results to look at how best to continue supporting fruit and vegetable farms.
Some 21,250 workers were allowed into the country under the old Saws scheme but the British summer fruits market boomed so much there were still shortages of 21,000 staff a year, even after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, which gave farms unfettered access to labour across the EU.