Farmers preparing for this year’s harvests are concerned that when freedom of movement stops after Brexit, there will be a shortage in the already dwindling numbers of workers available to pick produce.
UK fruit and vegetable producers need between 60,000 and 70,000 seasonal workers every year, but since the Brexit referendum in 2016, farm businesses have had to increase wages and spend more on recruitment and retention to get the numbers they need.
The UK competes for seasonal workers with other European countries and the fall in the value of Sterling means that these workers could earn less if they come to work in the UK. This has led to warnings from industry groups such as the National Farmers Union (NFU), which have said that harvests could be left to rot if the labour is not there to pick the produce.
Farmers have been left confused by the Government’s recent announcement that freedom of movement for EU nationals will end on 31 October in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the uncertainty of what will happen has made it harder for farmers to convince seasonal workers currently in the UK to come back for the next picking season.
Experts predict that farmers will also find it difficult to fill jobs with British workers, as the jobs are temporary and require long hours on only the national minimum wage, which is £8.21 per hour, plus performance-related bonuses.
The pay and conditions currently mean that the majority of seasonal workers come from Eastern Europe, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, with labour from these two countries making up two-thirds of the workforce.
As a spokeswoman for one recruitment company that specialises in seasonal labour commented, it is getting harder each year to recruit, and there are already concerns over where farmers will find the 1,000 workers needed to harvest daffodils in January.