Government bid to rebrand fruit-picking jobs as staff shortages follow Brexit vote
Ministers are drawing up plans to rebrand fruit-picking amid a shortage of workers after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, it has emerged.
Some 85,000 seasonal workers are employed by Britain’s horticultural industry, with an estimated 95% coming from other EU member states.
But trade body British Summer Fruits (BSF) has warned that its members are now facing a 10-15% shortfall in people willing to do the job - with fears that gap could rise to 30% by the autumn.
The industry has resorted to hiking wages to try and offset the post-Brexit fall in the pound which some farmers believe is deterring EU workers.
In a bid to plug the gap, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is now working with fruit growers to bust myths about the work among sceptical Brits.
BSF chairman Nick Marston told the Times that while farm work was “always portrayed as very low paid and back-breaking” it is no longer “the arduous work it was 15 to 20 years ago”.
The industry chief added: “The work is almost all done standing up because the strawberries are on tabletops.
“The pay, including productivity bonus, is substantially more than working in the hospitality industry.”
Jobcentres will get fresh guidance drawn up by the BSF with input from the Government, pointing out that fruit-pickers can net £675 a week in wages.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our jobcentres are working closer than ever with businesses to offer good opportunities for jobseekers. These cover a variety of sectors, including roles in agriculture.”
The Department also talked up its flagship Universal Credit welfare overhaul, arguing that the new single benefit would make it easier for people who want to pick fruit to take on short-term work.
“As Universal Credit is a tailored and responsive benefit, people can accept short-term contracts and seasonal work without worrying about their benefits, making it much more flexible than the old system,” the spokesperson said.
But Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran of the pro-EU Best for Britain group slammed the move, and accused the Government of "floundering" to limit the damage of Brexit.
"This time they're desperately trying to pitch fruit picking to British workers to make up for the big shortages of labour in that field thanks to Brexit," she told PoliticsHome.
"95% of the 85,000 seasonal workers in the horticulture industry are from other EU countries. Now, with Brexit making arrangements more difficult for those trying to get here, two-thirds of farms are reporting a severely reduced number of applications.
"It seems Brexit is beginning to wither on the vine of reality."