Farming groups yesterday hit out at the news from the UK government that measures which have made it easier to employ foreign workers in the soft fruit and vegetable growing sectors will cease at the end of this year.
The seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) has allowed UK fruit and vegetable growers to employ a quota of up to 21,000 migrant workers from outside the full EU as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time.
In a written ministerial statement, immigration minister Mark Harper said that it would finish, as planned, at the end of 2013.
“The government does not intend to open any new SAWS for workers from outside the European Economic Area as our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry,” he said.
He added that full accession of both Bulgaria and Romania to the EU would mean that growers had unrestricted access to workers from these areas.
However, the news was met with anger by both NFU Scotland and its English counterpart.
Scottish soft fruit farmer Peter Thomson lamented the loss of the scheme, widely used by those in the berry industry, and said the success of the fruit and vegetable sectors had in part been built on the availability of these workers: “SAWS has been a popular and successful scheme with both Scottish growers and those students who have come to work here and its demise is a bitter disappointment.
“For many years, the scheme has provided a valuable source of hard-working enthusiastic staff across the busy summer months, keen to come to Scotland to work but to also enjoy all that Scotland has to offer. The terms of the scheme saw those workers required to return home at the end of the harvest, but often promoting Scotland to others as a great place to visit and work.
“While it is the UK government’s belief that labour gaps will be filled by those currently unemployed in the UK, past experience has shown that it has been incredibly difficult to recruit temporary staff from local sources. The ending of SAWS will generate uncertainty within individual businesses as a tried and tested source of temporary staff will have been lost.
“We want Scottish production of soft fruit, vegetables and specialist crops to continue to grow but the short- and long-term impact of this disappointing decision will take some time to digest.
The English NFU also struck out: “[This] will have a devastating impact on the horticulture sector,” said deputy president Meurig Raymond. “It will put thousands of permanent UK jobs at risk, stifle growth, compromise food security, and jeopardise the industry.”