We’ve seen a number of questions from people on social media, and have been asked by Full Fact readers, about why flights have been chartered to bring migrant workers into the UK to pick fruit. This issue isn’t one that has a definitive answer, but we can help provide some context for it.
Last month it was reported that farmers could face a crisis as travel restrictions meant seasonal farmworkers, who often come from Eastern Europe, could not make it to the UK to pick crops, leaving them to rot.
Following this, a recruitment drive was launched and job site Totaljobs reported at the start of April that there had been an 83% increase in applications for agricultural roles in the past month. Then in mid-April, it was confirmed that a number of flights would be privately chartered to bring in experienced farmworkers from Romania.
This provoked some backlash from people who felt that British workers were being passed over for roles, while others have expressed frustration at roles seeming to be all filled.
Some of the debate may stem from uncertainty around the types of roles available, and what farmers need.
In an interview with the BBC, a spokesperson for G’s, a produce grower which chartered two of the six reported flights, said that the foreign workers flown in on 16 April were experienced farm workers who were needed to train and supervise new recruits. They will reportedly make up a third of their workforce from foreign applicants, leaving the majority of roles to be filled by UK applicants.
A G’s spokesperson was also quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that “if everybody was brand new it would be very hard. These workers from Romania know about food safety. They will provide the platform while we train up the Brits.”
It’s also worth noting that the cost of chartering flights means that this is only an option for the UK’s larger producers, and not for smaller operations that may also be affected by worker shortages.
A number of farms have also stated that, although they currently have enough workers, they will be hiring more in the coming months.
Farmers have previously said that there are issues with workers looking for short term work when some would be needed for up to six months to work on longer projects and gain necessary training.
The Country Land and Business association estimates that 80,000 agricultural workers will be needed by the industry this season. Others report a shortage closer to 90,000, although it is unclear where this figure comes from.
The Guardian reported in mid-April that 450 Romanian workers were expected to be brought in to help by one charter airline. This would still leave the vast majority of roles needing to be filled.
The same article quotes Concordia, a Brighton-based charity that recruits volunteers, as saying that despite high interest in paid roles, of the 35,000 applicants, only 5,500 had taken up interview offers.
So, it seems that while there has been a marked interest from British people in the thousands of farm roles, some organisations involved say there have been some difficulties in matching people to suitable roles and contract lengths. The number of foreign workers flown in is a relatively small proportion of the total roles that need to be filled, and the firms say that these workers’ experience is necessary while less experienced British workers are trained up.
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