British workers 'needed on farms'
February 3, 2009
There are plenty of “British jobs for British workers” on UK farms, a committee of MPs has been told.
James Davies, who recruits East Europeans to pick fruit and vegetables, said he wanted the government to allow 5,000 more foreign workers into the UK.
Asked why he did not employ Britons, he told the home affairs committee: “If they want jobs they can have them.”
The MPs were told UK workers did not want seasonal agricultural jobs, which pay a basic wage of 5.74 an hour.
But Peter Temple, of the National Farmers' Union, told the MPs more people might start to consider working on the land as better paid jobs in other industries dried up.
The government increased by 5,000 the number of Bulgarian and Romanian workers it will allow into the UK this year under its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), from 16,500 to 21,250.
But Mr Davies, general manager of HOPS Labour Solutions, an agency which recruits East European migrant workers for UK farms, said there was still a shortfall of “about 5,000”.
He said farms were under constant pressure to recruit staff – but he hit back at claims by Labour MP Martin Salter that they would find it easier to hire local workers if they paid better wages.
Seasonal farm workers were paid 1p an hour more than minimum wage, he told the MPs, but with piece work they could earn as much as 7.50 an hour.
He said farms were under pressure from the supermarkets they supplied to keep wage costs down and if they could not find staff to pick and process produce they would simply stop growing it.
Some Polish workers were returning to work on British farms as jobs on construction sites dried up, said Mr Davies, but the general trend, as the CBI deputy director general John Cridland told the committee, was that Polish workers were returning to their own country.
And the falling value of the pound had hit efforts to recruit workers from Poland, Slovakia and other East European countries, who were now going to work in countries such as Spain and Germany instead.
Asked about rising unemployment in the UK, and calls for the government to provide “British jobs for British workers”, he said: “If they want jobs they can have them”.
But many of the people made redundant in the current recession were “in the wrong place and have the wrong skills” and did not want seasonal work.
But Peter Temple, of the National Farmers' Union, said: “Those job opportunities are there and people don't choose to take them, even in areas of high unemployment.”
He said there were signs people were starting to consider jobs in agriculture as the recession took hold and farmers were keen to promote farming careers to students and young people but that would take “many years to bear fruit”.
He said British farmers had turned to migrant labour because skilled British workers found they could “work lower numbers of hours for more money” in other industries and students were no longer prepared to do seasonal agricultural work, which could be physically demanding.
“We were grateful for migrant workers where we literally could not find people to man equipment and the quality of staff that we got has improved what we were able to do,” he told the MPs.
It was a similar story in the care home sector, the MPs were told, where about 12% of workers in England came from outside the European Union and often worked for long hours for low wages.
Mandy Thorn, of the National Care Association, said the reason wages were low in the care home sector was that government was not prepared to fund the sector properly.
But she said some care homes had also experienced “problems” with British staff.
These included “people who are not prepared to work what has to be shift work, it's a service that has to be delivered seven days a week, 24 hours a day” and people “who are not prepared or who are not able to do the very personal, intimate care that's needed and that's particularly where wages are lower than we would like to pay”.