29 March 2002

Call to ease entry for non-EU labour

A RADICAL overhaul of the work permit system for labour from outside the EU is needed, say growers and the NFU.

Many sectors of agriculture in the UK are suffering due to a lack of workers at key periods throughout the season. The latest to be hit are daffodil producers in the south-west of the country. Up to one third of the crop has gone to waste because labour was not available to pick it, leading to an estimated £3m loss.

Jim Hosking, who farms 51ha (125 acres) of the flowers in Cornwall, said that under the current system most non-EU workers were only available after May. "Our needs peak in February, we can suddenly require up to 5000 people, so the system definitely needs to be more flexible."

One big East Anglian asparagus producer, who declined to be named, agreed, saying a staff shortage cost him £1000s during the last harvest. "It seems that English casual workers have lost the work ethic. Foreign student workers are much more reliable. We would certainly benefit from more of them."

The government has already increased the allocation of permits under the student-based Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme by 5000 over the next two years from the current 15,200. But the NFU reckons this is not the long-term answer.

It believes a more flexible green card system should be introduced. Janine Garai, employment law advisor at the organisation, said details had not been finalised but envisaged workers would be allowed to remain in the UK for up to six months. The number of cards required had not yet been calculated, she added. &#42

Jim Hosking reckons a labour shortage has wiped £80,000 off his income.