Theresa May has been warned that Britain’s £3bn horticulture industry will be at risk unless she moves to fill a predicted labour shortage by allowing Ukrainians, Russians and Moldovans to pick fruit and vegetables on UK farms.
Independent advisers told the Home Secretary that supermarkets may eventually be forced to abandon home-grown produce such as strawberries, asparagus and daffodils if labour shortages force up wage costs.
Under the current system, 21,250 Bulgarians and Romanians come into the UK to pick crops each year under a dedicated visa, and account for just over a third of the country’s harvesting workforce. But farmers fear that these workers will abandon the scheme as soon as they qualify for full EU labour rights, giving them access to higher-paid and easier jobs in bars, restaurants and nursing homes.
The advisory group identifies several reasons why local British workers would not want to do the picking jobs, such as the requirement to live on a farm for the entire season and working long, unpredictable shifts. According to the report, an eight-hour shift cutting celery requires pickers to bend down 4,000 times.
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