Kent MP Helen Whately has called on UK supermarkets to back the fresh produce industry’s calls for a new SAWS scheme after meeting representatives from English Apples and Pears in Westminster.
EAP’s chairman Phil Acock and Carmella Meyer, a director at the topfruit industry body, travelled to parliament to meet Whately and discuss the urgent need to tackle post-Brexit labour shortages.
The organisation is pushing for a parliamentary debate on the issue, and urged growers to submit their evidence of 2017 labour shortages to email@example.com before the end of February.
This information will be passed on to Whately and other MPs keen to table a debate on SAWS.
Whately, the MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, called for strong messages of support for a reincarnated workers scheme from UK supermarkets, acknowledging that the topfruit industry is likely to face an even greater challenge to attract labour in 2018.
“As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for fruit and vegetable growers, I’m campaigning for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme,” she said.
“That will enable our growers to compete fairly with competitors in the EU, and make sure they have the workers they need to continue producing fabulous British fruit and veg.”
She added: “British fruit has been a success story in recent years, a good thing for the economy and for our health. But the business is getting tougher, particularly recruiting seasonal workers.”
The meeting in London followed a recent NFU Labour survey, which showed a 29 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers in September 2017.
The following month a report commissioned by EAP highlighted the extent of the problem in the British orchard crop sector – specifically in apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots.
Written by John Pelham of agricultural consultants Andersons, the study concluded that the British orchard fruit industry needs the guarantee of 11,500 workers by 2019 to avoid the potential collapse of the sector.
Acock commented: “If we are to continue to harvest the great British fruit that everyone loves, we urgently need the support of MPs like Helen Whately to table the SAWS debate.”
EAP is calling for all farmers affected to urgently lobby their local MPs.