To deal with these labour shortages, the government created the seasonal workers scheme, which offers short-term visas to those who wish to come to the UK to work in horticulture for up to six months. The numbers allowed to come are clearly insufficient as the farming industry says it needs an extra 70,000 more to plug the current shortages.
The story line from some sections of our industry, the media, the BBC in particular, Remainers and those on the political left, is that the labour shortage is a British problem caused by Brexit and if we were still a member of the EU, our farmers could attract the workers required. There would be no fields or glass houses full of rotting produce, and life down on the farm would be rosy.
So, it was interesting to hear from French Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt that French farmers are also struggling to get seasonal workers. Fruit, tomatoes and much else which needs harvesting is currently rotting in the fields. French farmers and companies across Europe are also pushed to find skilled and unskilled candidates.
British and European farmers now watch in despair as acres of wasted nutritious food is rotting due to a shortage of willing and able pickers at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is fuelled by inflation.
Seasonal labour used to come from across eastern Europe but now they no longer wish to take on this work. The standard of living has improved in their own countries so increasingly they no longer need to spend the summer earning higher wages than they would at home. So too, like the British workforce many are not prepared to work long hours doing manual labour.
Good luck to the government who plan to replace ‘overseas’ labour with British workers and machines. The moral of this story is that Brexit has nothing to do with the shortage of overseas workers. Efforts to recruit people to work on the land, building sites, social services and even nursing is an increasing struggle.
People are no longer prepared to get their hands dirty, work unsociable and long hours, or in many cases at all, it would seem. Well, I suppose amongst other reasons, if you pay people to sit at home and do absolutely nothing during a pandemic, they get used to getting something for nothing. One should also not forget Tony Blair promised a generation of workers in the 90s that the State would care for them from cradle to the grave. He also suggested they could look forward to retirement at 40. It is little wonder that the advantages of AI and robots is increasingly appealing to some.