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SAJID JAVID’S promise to boost the agricultural workforce comes too late for struggling British farmers, Labour warned today.
The Home Secretary announced a pilot scheme allowing British fruit and vegetable farms to hire 2,500 migrant workers on six-month visas, starting next spring and running until the end of 2020.
But Labour’s shadow food, environment & rural affairs secretary Sue Hayman said: “This action comes too late for many farmers who have been on their own in dealing with chronic labour shortages since the Tories decided to needlessly scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.”
She promised that Labour would reinstate the scheme which provided temporary workers to British agriculture until 2013.
And Ms Hayman warned: “A disastrous no-deal scenario is now a very real prospect thanks to Theresa May’s shambolic handling of Brexit, putting farmer livelihoods and the UK’s long-term food security at risk.
“Labour will bring back the Agricultural Wages Board, widen the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and oppose any undercutting of British food and farming standards through reckless trade deals.”
Industry bodies estimate that the agriculture sector relies on a 75,000-strong temporary migrant workforce.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the government has listened to farmers’ “powerful arguments” about the need for seasonal labour to boost productivity and profit.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union bosses’ group, described the pilot announcement as a “major victory.”
But fruit growers’ body English Apples and Pears executive Ali Capper said that 2,500 workers would simply not be enough.
He argued the number should be at least 11,500 to keep up with the expected volume of crops by 2021.
“Our growers are already struggling to recruit workers. Some 41 per cent have seen fewer applications for seasonal picking work this year, and 61 per cent believe 2019 will be even worse,” Mr Capper said.
“While this pilot is a step in the right direction, we urge the government to consider a larger-scale solution.
“Without the right number of seasonal workers, our best-in-class British apples and pears could be left to rot on trees.”
The first seasonal agricultural workers scheme was introduced in response to labour shortages after the second world war.
Under the last version of the programme, farmers were allowed to employ workers from Bulgaria and Romania for up to six months at a time.
Lamiat Sabin is Morning Star Parliamentary Reporter.
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