Andrew Bridgen highlights problems facing agricultural sector seeking seasonal workers

6th July 2017

Speaking in a debate on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and Brexit, Andrew Bridgen highlights the problems facing the sector in recruiting enough seasonal workers as many of these businesses are located in areas with sparse populations and very low unemployment such as North West Leicestershire.

I commend my hon. Friend on securing this debate on an important topic. I bring the Chamber’s attention to my declaration of interest as a major shareholder in a vegetable processing company based in my constituency. Does he agree that businesses such as those in North West Leicestershire are based in areas with sparse populations, but very low unemployment? In my constituency, unemployment is less than 1%. Not only does local labour not necessarily want to take short-term, insecure work, but they are not available to do it, because unemployment is so low.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is partly because of the success of our economy that we have so much going on and that we need this labour. My constituency has the same situation as his, with very low unemployment. I do not have as much vegetable growing, but I have meat and poultry processing, which are almost entirely done by central and eastern European labour, and that is an issue. We want to ensure that we can find as much home-grown labour as we can, but we have also got to have accessibility to labour from Europe and, in the future, probably from beyond Europe.

 
 

I seem to remember that when I went strawberry picking as a young boy the strawberries were grown on the ground, and it was backbreaking work. Have the Perthshire berry growers adopted the same practices as in the midlands, where the fruit is grown in a substrate at waist height? Farmers appreciate that labour is valuable and that they must make good use of it. That hugely increases pickers’ productivity; but even having taken those important steps forward, we are still short of labour.

The hon. Gentleman is right and that is a good point. Going around polytunnels now, one can see that everything is raised. I am sure the hon. Gentleman respects and appreciates the fact that the work is labour-intensive, and there is no way of getting around that. Some of the producers and berry farmers in my constituency have considered all sorts of ingenious measures and machines to try to find other ways of doing things, but people are still left picking the crop from the plant. We must accept that that will continue to be a feature of the activity on berry farms.

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