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Increase of seasonal agricultural workers

National Farmers’ Union salutes the change that will safeguard the fruit industry

01 January 2009. The Government has increased the number of foreign workers allowed to pick crops in the UK. The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (Saws), which is set to be phased out in 2011, permits students from elsewhere in the EU to reside in Britain and return home once the season closes.

National Farmers’ Union horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst was pleased with the decision and said: “This increase in quota is good news and shows that ministers have listened to the evidence we submitted to them directly and via the Migration Advisory Committee.

“It makes sense that British growers are able to supply the British fruit and vegetables in season, which consumers say they want, especially as food security is such a key issue.

“While the increase in quota is positive, in order to maintain business confidence it is important that a long-term view of seasonal labour needs is considered.

“We will be working with the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish a strategy that ensures growers can plan the development of their businesses in the confidence that there will be sufficient seasonal labour in the future.”

In 2006 the number was reduced from 25,000 to 16,250, which was a decision that hurt the fruit industry as it began to suffer from a lack of available workers.

Some of this year’s crops went unpicked as a result.

On the 18th of December 2008, immigration minister Phil Woolas announced a rise of 5,000 to make the current total of 21,500 permitted fruit-pickers.

Faversham and Mid Kent MP Hugh Robertson, who is also secretary of the All Party Parliamentarian Fruit Group, had been lobbying throughout the year for an increase. He said:

“I am delighted by the Home Office’s decision, which will safeguard the fruit industry for the immediate future.

“I am also pleased by the minister’s commitment, at our meeting last Tuesday, to work towards a long-term solution via a replacement for the current labour scheme.

Mr Robertson, who was joined in his battle by representatives from the National Farmers’ Union, said he was also assured by Mr Woolas that a similar or greater increase was likely in 2010.

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