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Thursday, June 07, 2018

The rotten fruit of Brexit

You may think this is a post about Theresa May's cabinet but no, it is actually about fruit, or more precisely the problems faced by UK farmers, many of whom voted for Brexit, in recruiting people to pick their fruit before it goes rotten in the fields.

As the BBC reports, recruitment agencies are warning that they cannot secure the number of workers needed by British farmers to pick their fruit and vegetables. Over half say that they could not find the labour even in the "quiet" first months of this year, whilst the National Farmers Union reports that last year there was a 17% drop in seasonal workers coming to the UK. This led to some valuable produce being left to rot in the fields.

The BBC say that ninety-nine percent of seasonal workers on British farms come from Eastern Europe. Two-thirds of these come from Romania and Bulgaria. One Kent-based company which works in Romania to supply labour for 80 growers across the UK needs to find 4,000 people to pick strawberries, raspberries, and eventually apples and pears over the next few months. They are apparently nowhere near that target:

According to co-director, Estera Amesz, the numbers of people wanting to work in Britain fell sharply after Brexit. A key issue was the fall in the value of the pound. She says it is also down to the uncertainty; people aren't sure what documents they now need.

"We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest. Thirty to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it's a handful. We used to take the crème de la crème. Now, we are scraping the barrel."

The firm runs criminal history checks and the candidates do dexterity tests, but Mrs Amesz says her company has had to widen the net. She says she now considers those that, "have two hands and two legs, and stand a 50% chance of making it".

Rather than people coming to the company offices, they now have to travel deep into the Romanian countryside to sell the idea of coming to work in the UK.

This is just one consequence of the vote to leave the EU. The economy of countries like Romania are actually growing at a faster rate that that of the UK and are developing an affluent middle class.

Whilst the UK government flounders in its own indecision and failures, the UK is being left behind. Oh yes, and our fruit and vegetables are rotting in the fields.
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