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From the editor: Recruitment challenge will stay long after virus has gone

Getting the right people to work on farms and in the wider supply chain has been a challenge for the industry for some time now.

Fruit and vegetable growers, dairy and large scale abattoirs have long relied on a flow of labour from Eastern Europe, in particular.

 

It has been a movement of people that has reshaped some communities across the UK, especially in the early years of this century, but has meant key agricultural and processing businesses have been able to keep going.

 

For some, the motivation to recruit foreign labour may have been cost-based, for many more it has been out of simple necessity. As attitudes towards agriculture have shifted and what British workers are willing to be paid for has also changed, it is foreign workers who have often showed the right attitude to prosper in these sectors.


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Now though, employers are facing a two-fold challenge in the UK: Brexit and coronavirus. The former had meant some foreign workers were returning home as the value of the pound slipped back in recent years, while Covid-19 has put the brakes on new workers coming to this country due to health fears.

 

And while the notion that British people will rise to the challenge and work the fruit fields of England and Scotland this summer might summon patriotic feelings, the reality will be how labour requirements are met.

 

The short-term challenges might be chronic, but many are surmountable. It is the long-term challenges around labour which may present more of a stumbling block.

 

For instance, if Covid-19 and Brexit mean the flow of foreign workers is stymied over a longer period of time, who will take on the jobs then?

 

And if the solution is from within the domestic workforce, will their expectations in terms of pay and conditions add another lay of cost for many firms in agriculture and wider supply chain?

 

British jobs for British people might chime with a spirit of national resolve in this current crisis, but the long-term challenge will require far more than patriotic soundbites.

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