I see the story about Britain having a lack of seasonal farm workers has been picked up by other news outlets, including the Guardian which declares:
Farms hit by labour shortage as migrant workers shun ‘racist’ UK
A 20% shortfall in migrant workers relied on to pick fruit and vegetables is blamed on Brexit making the UK seem ‘xenophobic’
I guess eastern European migrant workers must have changed since I rubbed shoulders with them occasionally on farms and building sites, because back then they were about as politically correct as Donald Trump.
“The grim reality is that the perception from overseas is we are xenophobic, we’re racist, and the pound has plummeted too,” said John Hardman, director at Hops Labour Solutions, who also estimates a 20% shortage of workers. “We’ve gone with Brexit and that makes us look unfriendly.
Seasonal farm workers rank friendliness of a country highly on their list of criteria? Who knew? It’s bollocks: this Hardman twat is facing extra admin. costs to import his labour and he doesn’t like it, so he’s decided to insult those who brought it about. The Guardian, true to form, has swallowed it whole and slapped it in their headline as if he’s stating an empirical truth.
Hardman said people who thought the shortage of farm labour could be filled by UK workers were “delusional”. He said: “There is no appetite in the UK labour pool for seasonal agricultural work.” The hospitality industry was more attractive for temporary work and unemployment is low in key areas, like Kent, he said.
So start paying wages that compete with the hospitality industry, then. Or will that mean the missus can’t get that new Aga until next year?
What’s strange is fruit and vegetable picking isn’t badly paid. Yesterday I read a load of people on social media, who had never harvested a vegetable in their lives, imply that the workers are paid less than minimum wage. There was no minimum wage when I was a farm labourer, but the hourly rate wasn’t bad, especially if you were a student like I was. And if you’re on piecework you can make way more than the minimum wage, as my Chinese pal Zu found out. And if I’m honest, it isn’t that much hard work: yes, picking potatoes hurts your back and none of it is much fun, but you get used to it. And I was 19 and fit as a fiddle, so who cares? That’s half the fun of being young, you can work like that and get smashed that night, and shrug it all off. It’s a summer job, not a career. Don’t kid yourself it’s similar to mining coal by hand.
And of course, there is always the possibility that you might get promoted, and here I must make a slight confession: I didn’t actually do a lot of vegetable picking that summer*. They stuck me out in the fields for the first couple of weeks, and then one day the bloke who drove around the farm delivering packing materials and crates of ice couldn’t make it in. The farm manager asked if I could do it, told me once what I needed to do, and I just got on with it. Driving a tractor and trailer around was a lot more fun than picking bloody vegetables, so I did a good job of it. I was therefore asked to do it each day for the next week until the regular chap come back, and when he did he’d lost interest so the farm manager just told me to carry on. And that was my job: driving packing materials, ice, and produce around between the fields and the farm.
Having demonstrated that I was (just about) responsible (there were some hairy moments with the tractor) and I was reliable and organised, I got myself a much better job than everyone else. My fellow students didn’t mind because they were more interested in the higher-paying piecework; I was more interested in driving tractors. But to get that “promotion” I first had to turn up at the farm and scrape around in the dirt. Demonstrating reliability and responsibility is essential when starting out in employment, and a farm is as good a place to do that as any. The farm manager wrote several references for me in the years that followed, mainly for jobs in Manchester.
A few people said that the yoof cannot be expected to work on farms because they live in cities, and can’t get there. Well, I didn’t live in Pershore either but surprisingly those who run multi-million pound labour-intensive farming operations have thought of this and provide accommodation on the farm. Where do Guardian readers think all the Romanians and Bulgarians live? In the nearest Travelodge? The accommodation was pretty good, a shared room in a catered residence. A few others lived in fixed caravans nearby. I was 19 for God’s sake, who cares what the accommodation was like? But then I’d been an army cadet and done boarding school, so perhaps I was less fussy.
As I said yesterday, it’s why I enjoy articles about farming: almost every word is written by somebody who’s never done a day of it in their life, and that includes the commenters.
* Trust me though, I have picked a shit-load of new potatoes by hand.