The government needs to “move faster” in ensuring access to seasonal labour for the soft fruit industry, the chairman of British Summer Fruits has urged.
Nick Marston said a seasonal workers permit scheme needed to be put in place, at least on a trial basis, by September this year if it is decided that Britain will withdraw from the Single Market.
“This will allow us to continue to operate at the current level of output,” he said. “Without it, an incredibly successful soft fruit industry, which contributes millions of pounds to the UK economy, will be crushed.”
According to Marston, failure to secure the future of UK soft fruit production would have wide-reaching effects and have a detrimental impact on the economy, family budgets, the nation’s health, UK food security and the environment.
The soft fruit veteran’s comments were a reaction to last week’s report from the Migration Advisory Committee, which revealed employers concerns over a post-Brexit migration system.
“The report states that employers’ claims of an inability to fill jobs with appropriate people and thus a need for migrants are in some cases exaggerated,” Marston said.
“In the case of the UK soft fruit industry this is categorically not so. The great majority of our growers experienced a significant shortage of workers in 2017 and this year will be worse, not better.
“We have previously outlined the potential impact that not having EU nationals working in our industry on a seasonal basis will have, and with a year to go until Brexit, we are concerned not enough is being done.
“The government has acknowledged the issue and the need for a Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme, but we need them to move faster. If we do not have the harvest workers, we do not have a soft fruit industry.”