The Government is to launch a nationwide pilot to bring migrant workers to UK farms.
This is really positive news for Kent’s farmers and couldn’t come at a more crucial time. This time last year farmers were 29% down on the workers they needed. We’ve been arguing for two years that labour shortages are holding back Kent’s thriving fruit industry. Farmers have been worried they will have to let fruit rot in the fields unless they can employ enough people to harvest it. I’m really glad the Government has listened and is helping farmers employ the workers they need.
The pilot will mean fruit and vegetable farmers are able to employ migrant workers for seasonal work for up to six months. 2,500 workers from outside the EU will be able to come to the UK each year, alleviating labour shortages during peak production periods.
In Faversham and Mid Kent farmers need as many as 10,000 workers during the peak picking season, while across the country the need is for around 95,000 seasonal workers. I’m often asked why they don’t employ more British workers, but that fact is, there aren’t anything like that number of people looking for jobs in this area. The pilot will provide just a small proportion of the seasonal workforce needed, but crucially it should lay the foundations for a more substantial scheme in future. It should also go hand-in-hand with investing in automation and reducing the reliance on manual labour, but that will take time and automating processes is a huge challenge especially for soft fruits.