Farmers are struggling to recruit field workers due to Brexit
Historically, farm labourers tended to be hired from within the European Union, due to the lack of visa or work permit requirements. EU workers typically filled jobs that were considered by Brits to be low skilled, with soft fruit farmers employing around 30,000 seasonal labourers between April and November.
A gradual labour shortage appears to have been brought on by Brexit and the uncertainty that it brings to fieldworkers. On average, farm work in the UK pays around £1,200 per month, however, farmers were around 9,000 workers short last year and expect to remain short until a Brexit deal has been finalised.
Almost half of UK farmers reported they suffered an average loss of £130,000 in 2018 as they were unable to attract enough workers to harvest all of their crops. With immigration being one of the headline points leading up to the Brexit referendum, many migrant workers are worried they will not be welcome in the UK or that a weaker pound will have a negative impact on their earnings.
The UK has started a trial program, specifically for the farming industry, to help bring in 2,500 workers from outside the EU on six-month visas. Whilst it is a step in the right direction, it is a difficult and lengthy process compared with recruiting EU farmworkers, who can move freely around the zone as and when they need to.
UK consumers are likely to feel the impact when grocery shopping, if farmers can’t harvest all their crops or have to pay more to attract EU workers or engage workers from outside the EU. Pending 31 October 2019, many UK farmers are still counting on EU workers remaining eager to accept fieldwork.
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This article was prepared by Hannah Morrow.