Fermierii din Kent se plîng : Work changes for Romanians could damage agricultural sector, warn farmers

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Currently, some 22,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are employed each year under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), many in Kent, picking soft fruit and vegetables.

Amid the scare stories and negative headlines, the reality is that without a migrant workforce – primarily from eastern Europe – the county’s agricultural sector would collapse.

With home-grown workers turning up their noses at the hard graft of working the land – mainly picking fruit and vegetables – British nationals account for a mere two to three per cent of the total workforce.

As a consequence, foreign workers have been warmly embraced by employers faced with local workforce apathy.

Yet those involved in the agricultural industry are now expressing concerns over the relaxation of labour laws for Romanians and Bulgarians.

Currently, some 22,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are employed each year under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), many in Kent, picking soft fruit and vegetables.

With labour market rules now ended, however, it means those workers currently restricted to fruit and vegetable picking are able to seek jobs in other sectors.

“They might look for easier, higher paid work. Picking is hard physical work,” said Kevin Attwood, NFU chairman for the south east region, who runs Down Court Farm in Doddington.

“Under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme they would come over as part of a quota, some of them would stay on farms, they get trained up picking, they stay for the season – so for about six months – and then they go home.

“We know once they come they have to stay here under the scheme until the end of the season. We know we have staff on site who will get up at four or five in the morning if needs be.

“But that scheme expired on December 31.

“Now they can come over and go into any job – so in a coffee shop or in the building trade.

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