8 June 2001

Casual worker crisis investigation?

A DETAILED study of ways to solve the casual worker crisis facing the regions horticulture industry could be in the pipeline.

The NFU is negotiating to have someone seconded from MAFF to look at what changes are needed to employment regulations to encourage people into the industry.

The union says a 21% drop in the number of casual workers employed in the south-east between June 1999 and June 2000 owes much to the problem of finding staff.

Latest figures from MAFF show that the number of casuals dropped from 12,011 in June 1999 to 9276 in 2000.

The NFU says finding workers has become a major problem for many producers. "We desperately lack casual labour and it has become a real crisis," said a spokesman.

"This is a major problem in the south-east, which is particularly difficult for producers with labour intensive crops."

Last year, the union put out a plea for workers, claiming that thousands of tonnes of cherries, strawberries and raspberries were being left unpicked in the field because of a shortage of seasonal workers.

The NFU called for an increase in the number of work permits allocated to the sector to allow more foreign students into the country.

County-by-county figures for the region show the south-easts total labour force fell 13.5%, from 60,249 in June 1999 to 52,096 in June 2000.

Worst-hit counties were East Sussex, Surrey and Kent, which together lost 3601 workers. &#42