UK fruit and vegetable growers are scrambling to recruit seasonal harvesting staff from international locations together with Morocco and Mongolia after Ukrainians, who made up most of final 12 months’s recruits, have been prevented from coming by the Russian invasion.
Some 67 per cent of virtually 30,000 individuals recruited beneath the seasonal staff’ scheme in 2021 got here from Ukraine, after Brexit ended free motion to the UK from the EU, beforehand the principle supply of farm labour. One other 8 per cent got here from Russia, official information present.
That has compelled recruiters to look elsewhere as the principle harvesting season approaches and visa processors wrestle with the added workload of the Ukrainian refugee schemes.
George Eustice, surroundings secretary, stated on Tuesday that “clearly these [Ukrainian] individuals aren’t going to return this 12 months. Most of them are literally staying to struggle for his or her nation”.
Talking on the Meals and Drink Federation’s annual convention, he added: “The 4 operators that run that scheme have been taking a look at different prospects together with international locations like Morocco and Bulgaria.”
Nick Ottewell, farming director at Kent salad grower LJ Betts, stated 40 Ukrainian staff who labored there in 2021 had been as a result of return this 12 months, however one had been killed within the conflict and the rest didn’t anticipate to achieve the farm, for causes together with an absence of visa processing amenities in Kyiv.
He had managed to recruit 38 Romanians to switch them beneath the visa scheme, arriving in April, however these new staff would require coaching and subsequently be much less productive than skilled pickers, including to the farm’s monetary burden.
“The [recruitment] companies have been channelling all their efforts by way of their networking and infrastructure into Ukraine since [the seasonal workers’ scheme] restarted and that’s all been shattered,” he stated. “Our business is in a multitude.”
The seasonal staff’ scheme, a variant of a programme in place till 2013, was restarted in pilot kind in 2019 and has ramped up post-Brexit.
Justin Emery, director at Fruitful Jobs, one of many recruitment companies working the scheme, stated his firm was recruiting in Mongolia, Tajikistan and the Philippines.
Some Ukrainians and Russians employed earlier than the February invasion have been nonetheless capable of work, he stated, however many Ukrainians had both joined the nation’s military or have been staying to take care of household. The nation is stopping males of preventing age from leaving.
Russians, in the meantime, can’t pay for working visas due to sanctions which have minimize off the Swift and Mastercard fee techniques.
Emery stated the UK visa service was occupied with dealing with functions by Ukrainian refugees, main the processing of seasonal staff’ visas to grind to a halt as the principle harvesting season looms. “We’ve been assured that may change over the subsequent couple of weeks. It wants to alter quickly,” he stated.
“We’re solely six weeks off our foremost season kicking off. We’ll be going into the smooth fruit season, with strawberry and raspberry choosing. Asparagus has began this week, and there might be planting of winter greens.
The Nationwide Farmers’ Union this month stated that “Ukrainian staff have been important to fruit and veg companies over the previous few years . . . [carrying out] important roles planting, choosing, packing and grading contemporary produce.” It has additionally known as for the scheme to be expanded to 40,000 locations this 12 months.
The Residence Workplace didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.