EXCLUSIVE We HAVE to hire foreign labourers from ex-Soviet republics to work on our farms – because Brits are so ‘workshy’: British farmers heap praise on new Asian workforce picking fruit and veg after claiming locals ‘don’t want to get their hands dirty’
British farmers have revealed they are forced to employ foreign workers from thousands of miles away because ‘workshy’ locals don’t want to do manual labour.
Lack of local interest in agricultural jobs has seen a surge in workers arriving on six-month visas from impoverished former Soviet nations outside the EU including Tajikistan, some 3,600 miles away.
Among those reaping the rewards is a 24-year-old Tajik vegetable picker called Ali saying he’s earned enough cash to help him buy two properties back home, boasting: ‘I’m a rich man.’
Now fruit and veg farmers across Britain have heaped praise on their new Asian workforce – who can earn up to £150 per day compared with a monthly wage of £200 at home – but voiced frustrations at Brits who turn their noses up at 5am starts and working outside through winter.
Anthony and Christine Snell employ 250 seasonal workers for six months of the year to pick soft fruit at their farm in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.
Anthony and Christine Snell (pictured together) said that it ‘just isn’t realistic to recruit Brits’
A 24-year-old vegetable picker called Ali says his work in the UK has helped him buy two homes back in his native country of Tajikistan (Ali is pictured speaking to the BBC)
Every year more than 2,100 tonnes of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants are produced on the 450 acre site for supermarkets including Tesco and M&S.
All their seasonal workers come on six month visas from countries including Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan although the majority are Bulgarian and are paid £11.40 per hour. None of their seasonal fruit pickers are British.
Mr Snell, who has run Windmill Hill Fruits since 1998 said: ‘The only reason we have seasonal workers is because we can’t get local people to do the jobs. It just isn’t realistic to recruit Brits.
‘It isn’t easy work, we start picking at 5am in the summer and all the workers live on site, and a lot of people wouldn’t want to be doing that.
‘British people are put off by the work and the seasonal nature because it is only six months of the year.
‘We have a fantastic relationship with our workers, they are looked after very well and paid well.
‘They are happy with the arrangement and we have a great level of returns which is good for us because they are already fully trained.’
Christine Snell previously told the BBC: ‘We tried very hard in the pandemic to recruit locally. Out of the 300 we need, we were able to recruit about 35.
Of those, many soon left when other opportunities arose, Mrs Snell said.
Mr Snell says they don’t struggle to recruit good staff from abroad and often see workers returning year after year but wages at the farm have doubled since 2014, putting huge pressure on profits.
In 2019, the quota for international pickers working in the UK was 2,500. But this has since been raised to 45,000 this year – which can be increased a further 10,000 a year if the Government deems it necessary.
Jane Richards is co-owner of 7,000 acre Southern England Farms in Hayle, Cornwall. The farm employs up to 500 seasonal workers on six-month visas to pick courgettes, cauliflower, broccoli, spring greens and cabbage for Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Jane Richards (pictured), the co-owner of 7,000 acre Southern England Farms in Hayle, Cornwall, said the majority of her workers still come from EU countries but she has seen a significant rise in workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in recent years
The majority of her workers still come from EU countries but she has seen a significant rise in workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in recent years.
Ms Richards said: ‘It is really hard work, it is cold and muddy and can be miserable but I have so much admiration for the workers who do the job.
‘The Tajiks and Uzbeks we have here are gorgeous people, they are lovely. We work very hard to help them integrate into the local community but they are generally just there to get their heads down and work and earn money.
‘The money they make changes their lives back home. £11.44 per hour is huge, it is life changing when they go home.
‘You talk to them and get to know what they are doing with the money, whether it’s building a house or helping their family and it does make you proud but they are earning every penny.
‘We have had problems in the past with local people turning up one day then not the next but that just doesn’t happen.
‘They are paying taxes and national insurance, I have never experienced anybody suddenly saying they need an operation or in any way taking advantage of this country.’
Jane (pictured) said she had little hope local workers would ever make up a significant part of the workforce and heaped praise on the work ethic of workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
Around 90 per cent of her six-month seasonal workers have previously worked a season at the farm which she says is attractive both because they are already trained and they often have a close-knit network of friends among the other workers meaning they feel less homesick.
Ms Richards said she had little hope local workers would ever make up a significant part of the workforce even though former home secretary Suella Braverman claimed there was ‘no good reason’ the UK could not train its own fruit and veg pickers.
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She urged the government to protect the future of the Tier 5 visa scheme which applies to seasonal workers.
She added: ‘We had five English people picking a few years ago but it was just embarrassing. We sometimes get accused of employing immigrants because they are cheaper but the opposite is true when you consider the bureaucracy involved.
‘I don’t care where somebody is from as long as they are here legally and want to work. It’s a pity in Cornwall because there must be people wanting to do it, we just can’t find them.
‘In people’s defence it is hard and cold work and it can help mentally that it is only for six months whereas if you are local it’s probably not that attractive.
‘It has been a change where seasonal workers have come from since Brexit but we didn’t have any British workers before Brexit either.’
Winterwoods farming boss Stephen Taylor, 66, told MailOnline that he has a workforce of 300 people, but only 20 of them are from the UK.
‘They (locals) don’t want to do these jobs but that is because there is zero incentive for Brits to take up these jobs,’ he said.
‘The simple reason is that farm work in unattractive to Brits.
‘In Covid we got so many British workers coming in, because of the travel restrictions, but once Covid ended everyone went back to their jobs. We can’t compete with those jobs, so we rely on the foreign work.’
David Simmons, a fifth-generation proprietor of Riveria Produce in Hayle, Cornwall, revealed once had an estate bustling with local staff but said people are now ‘just not interested’
The blueberry and blackcurrant farmer continued that he was disappointed at the government’s lack of policy in the area and that the recent hike to the national living wage was only making things more difficult.
‘The real dilemma is the government policy, or the fact that there is no policy, no food strategy,’ he added.
‘Take this for example, we have operations in Poland and in England. In Poland we can grown, pick and send our produce for less than we can just pick (the fruit) in the UK, because of the wages.’
In Kent Peter Kedge, 63, operates 160 acres of Victoria Farm, of which four fifths of its seasonal workforce comes from outside the UK.
He said that he was happy with this because they wanted to do the work.
‘We source all our own labour, mainly from Europe; Czech, Poland, Slovakia. And we have only about 10 British workers,’ Mr Kedge said.
‘People always think that these workers are migrants who are trying to stay. But they are not, they are not interested in social housing or staying in this country, they just want to work and go home.’
It comes after David Simmons, a fifth-generation proprietor of Riveria Produce in Hayle, Cornwall, revealed once had an estate bustling with local staff but said people are now ‘just not interested’.
‘The problem is, Brits have got it too cushy. We’re not hungry enough,’ he told BBC Two’s Simon Reeves Return to Cornwall.’They would rather go behind the bar or work in a hotel or do something which is less strenuous.’
The award-winning farmer said his foreign workers were ‘totally dedicated to earning money’.
‘Their psyche is totally different to a lot of young people in the UK now,’ he continued.
Other foreign workers are pictured at the farm in Hayle, Cornwall
‘Their psyche is to go out, earn as much money as they can as fast as they can; try and get their house, and get everything they want in life. And you’ve got to admire them for doing it.
‘The end of free movement for EU workers post-Brexit meant that during the 2020 pandemic, Mr Simmons was forced to double down his efforts to get locals in to help pick his crop.
READ MORE: Brits ‘don’t want to do manual labour anymore’: Farmers are hiring Tajiks and Uzbeks unfazed by 5am starts, weather and long hours picking fruit and veg
Adverts were placed in the local papers, social media and on TV, with 250 people expressing an interest. But of this, only 37 ever arrived – with numbers dwindling rapidly.
‘Within seven weeks we had one person left. We just couldn’t get any more people to come,’ Mr Simmons said, adding: ‘We’re just desperate to try and get local people to come and do this work but they’re just not interested.
Now 75 per cent of his pickers are from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with some coming from Ukraine and India. None are from the UK.
The figures on Mr Simmons’ farm reflect the national picture, where 98 per cent of the UK’s 45,000 pickers have come from elsewhere in the globe, including Barbados, Kenya and Nepal.
Riviera works with recruitment companies who source staff primarily in the old Soviet Bloc and tell them what the job entails.
Fresh workers then fly over and live in campervans that sleep two to six people. Recruits are mostly male but some are female, are typically aged between 20 and 40, and some arrive with relatives.
Speaking of his team, Mr Simmons said: ‘The people that come over are wonderful people, they really are. I’ve got the utmost respect for them, to go from one side of the world to the other and do this.’
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