Worcestershire Growers & Food Security At Risk
News Story

A warning has come that our food security is at risk unless the government changes its mind over the future of a tried and trusted scheme.

After meetings with growers around Hartlebury and Evesham, Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff has written to county MP and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith urging the re-introduction of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme – SAWS.

In his letter, Peter says that the government’s insistence on the scheme’s phasing out and abolition is wrong for three reasons:

• British food security and the incomes of growers are being seriously jeopardised; crops are already being ploughed back because they cannot be picked;
• British horticulture has always relied on temporary migrant labour; SAWS was an essential replacement for the Irish and travelling communities;
• and, from the perspective of managed migration, the most important point - with a diminished SAWS we are seeing an increase in permanent migration to the UK.

His letter explains,

“We urgently need to re-open SAWS – which is a temporary scheme for migration of agricultural students to the United Kingdom for a period of 6 months – to all the countries which once benefited from it.

“I have repeatedly warned that the restriction of SAWS, initially to Bulgaria and Romania, and its eventual abolition would have a devastating effect on growers in our county. Sadly, I am now being proved right. I had a recent meeting – a heartbreaking one – with a group of growers in my constituency. I am clear that it is time for the Government to take urgent action to prevent the loss of significant parts of the British horticultural industry and a consequent reduction in our food security at very difficult international times.

“For example, one grower who has 120 acres of salad onions in my constituency, can only get half the workers he needs to pick his crop, as a result of which he is ploughing back half of it into the ground and will go bankrupt in due course – he is trying to hold on until next year in the hope that he can get the right number of staff then but it will require a change in Government policy.

“Ironically, the Government’s insistence that it will not reinstate the scheme is making our immigration problems worse, not better. What is happening is that growers are seeking to recruit staff from other eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and so on. These staff members, when they arrive in the UK, discover that the work is more demanding and less well paid than they had imagined and move on elsewhere in the economy. They then build relationships, professionally and personally, and are much more likely to settle down in the United Kingdom as a result. The agricultural students who came in under the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme could only come for six months and all returned to their native countries, leaving behind them only happy memories and taking with them the proceeds of their work.

“It is worth emphasising that Worcestershire growers have always relied on temporary and migrant labour to pick their crops. In the past, it was Irish or the gypsy communities that provided so much of this labour together with school children on holiday from schools. The welcome crackdown on labour as a result of the introduction of the gang master licensing authority has revealed that much of the old casual labour was indeed illegal labour and the growers are very happy not to be using such people now. Of course, access to school children to do backbreaking work in fields is non-existent in our more enlightened times. There has been no tradition for many decades of British workers engaging in picking field crops and the repeated attempts by growers to attract British workers to do so now prove there is no enthusiasm among our current residents for the task.

“The future of the British horticultural industry in Worcestershire and around the country is in your hands. You only have to say that the scheme will be reintroduced and all the historic countries that were part of it can once again benefit from the provisions and you will actually improve the overall immigration position while benefiting British farming and food security enormously.”

Peter is seeking an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary to explain his concerns.

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