Thursday, September 06, 2018

New SAWS scheme to be trialed

A new scheme to enable migrants to work in UK agriculture in the picking season after Brexit has long been awaited, but is now about to be announced.

It appears that Downing Street was blocking the scheme. Why this should be the case is not clear, but Theresa May has taken a hard line on migration issues, evidenced by her insistence that students should count as immigrants.

In any event, Home Secretary Savid Javid and Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove have been able to push the scheme through.

It will be a trial scheme for two years and will cover 2,500 workers which is a small number given that 75,000 seasonal workers are estimated to have been employed in 2016. The current shortfall is about 7,000.

The scheme would be for those from outside the EU and the regulations that would apply to temporary EU migrants remain to be resolved. Countries that might supply workers under the trial scheme could include Ukraine and Morocco. However, Germany has offered 60,000 visas to workers from the Ukraine.

Under the old SAWS scheme, which ran from 1945 to 2013, farmers could employ overseas workers for up to six months to pick fruit and vegetables. Workers were recruited and vetted by four authorised agencies (the pilot scheme will be run by two yet to be selected).

Farmers and growers have been dealing with significant shortages of labour, reflected in the Radio 4 fictional serial, The Archers. The weakening of the pound and the buoyancy of economies elsewhere in Europe has slowed the number of workers arriving.

One of England's biggest fruit growers, Hall Hunter Partnership, have tried an innovative approach on their seven sites. They have tried to improve workers' productivity to enable pay to rise. As a result, more than 70 per cent of the pickers they hire are returning to the UK each year, well above the sector average of 40 per cent.

The proposal has been broadly welcomed by the NFU who see it as a success for their lobbying.

Read more about the proposal in this report from Farmers Weekly: Visa scheme

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