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British companies are looking for more European workers. The government says no.

Boston, England — Catherine Nandy, who investigated a row of purple cabbage in one of the fields, says her farm outlook is bleak. Like other farmers across Britain, she relied on the influx of seasonal workers from the European Union to bring the harvest, but this year she is struggling without it.

Britain left the 27-member block last year and this year Free movement of EU citizens into the country In the midst of a pandemic that is causing labor shortages in many major economies.

“Before we finished Brexit, Covid broke out. The two issues merged,” said Windy Ridge Farm in Lincolnshire, doubling the workforce of 25 people in seasonal labor during peak hours. This is Mr. Nandy. So far, she’s confused by about half of the workers she needs. She ordered a cabbage harvester next year, but planting is 20% less due to the endless labor shortage. “It’s unsustainable,” she said.

Many economies are suffering from labor shortages as major economies recover from the blockade. Factory owners in China cannot find enough staff to meet the surge in demand for everything from handbags to cosmetics. Meanwhile, the mismatch between job seekers and those looking to hire in the United States is pushing up wages and driving existing workers. Record more overtime..

Pig farmers say there are not enough butcher and slaughterhouse workers in the UK


Photo:

Gareth Fuller / PA Wire / Zuma Press

However, only the United Kingdom has blocked access to what was a source of important workers. The government recently called on the military to help deliver fuel. Some gas stations are depleted There is a shortage of tank truck drivers. Due to the shortage of butcher and slaughterhouse workers in the country, pig farmers are threatening to dispose of 100,000 animals.

Sectors like agriculture, which relied heavily on European workers, are urging governments to issue more visas to fill supply chain gaps.But curbing immigrants An important reason why many people voted to leave the EU Five years ago, the ruling Conservative Party resisted pressure to issue more than a few temporary visas. Ministers say the current turmoil is a toothy problem as Britain moves to a new economic model. They say limiting immigration helps raise wages, forces companies to invest in new technologies, and improves modest productivity growth.

Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

This week, Britain’s business relies too much on cheap import labor, saying the country needs to move away from the “old broken model.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that Britain needs to move away from “old broken models.”


Photo:

Ray Tang / xinhua / Zuma Press

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go back to the previous low-wage, low-investment, low-skilled approach,” he said. “This is a big turning point for Britain.”

In 2004, due to the expansion of the EU, including the former Soviet block countries, thousands of workers from places such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to rural areas of the United Kingdom such as Lincolnshire where 30% of the country’s vegetables are grown. Gathered. Some of the richest farmlands in the country. According to the Oxford University Immigration Observatory, net immigration to the UK peaked at 331,000 in the year ended March 2015.

Towns like Boston have been transformed and frustrated by the influx, with 75.6% of voters here voting to leave the EU in 2016. This is the highest district in the country.

Material in favor of Brexit exhibited in Boston, England in May 2016. About three-quarters of Boston voters voted to leave the EU in a referendum that year.


Photo:

The Wall Street Journal Mark Salmon

Wendy Reed runs a bridal shop on West Street, which is lined with companies targeting Eastern European customers. Reed, who voted for Brexit, said the influx of immigrants put a strain on public services and made the town unrecognizable.

The result of the referendum was a concern for Mr. Nandy, who is cultivating 1,200 acres of land by car from Boston. Some of her full-time staff, who were EU citizens, left before the Brexit took place, and more returned when the pandemic last year. By 2020, it was part of a large outflow of 200,000 EU citizens, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. About 3.5 million people remain. For Mr. Nandy, this problem was only alleviated at the same time as the harvest, when regulations were deregulated this summer and demand began to recover.

According to the National Farmers’ Union, the 30,000 visas offered to seasonal workers are less than half of the 60,000-70,000 required annually. The government does not say how many of them were taken up.

Due to the shortage, farmers compete for a smaller workforce, offering loyalty bonuses and other incentives, as well as £ 8.91 per hour (equivalent to $ 12.11), which is several times the minimum wage. However, many supply vegetables to retailers under fixed-price contracts, and wages cannot be raised without clearing the margins already squeezed by rising input costs such as packaging and fuel.

A local labor agency has provided Mr. Nandy with five European workers, who are paying five times the minimum wage to prepare 60,000 pumpkin crops for the market. .. Some workers refused certain tasks or did not appear in bad weather, but Mr. Nandy said he would tolerate them because it was so difficult to replace them.

“The balance of power has completely shifted to workers,” said Chris Taylor, who runs a labor institution in Boston. Of the 680 people currently in his book, all but 20 are from the EU.

Britain deployed military personnel this month to support its fuel supply.


Photo:

MOD / Agence France-Presse-Presse / Getty Images

Labor shortages in other sectors are also exacerbating agricultural challenges. The shortage of drivers makes it difficult to secure diesel for tractors and deliver produce to buyers.

According to the latest data available from the Office for National Statistics, there were 268,000 truck drivers on UK roads at the end of June. This is 12% less than at the end of 2019. The number of EU drivers has plummeted. 35%, down from 15,000 to 28,000.

In front of Brexit is AC Whyte & Co, a construction contractor in Barrhead, Scotland. Ltd. Jennifer Phin, managing director of the company, hired skilled paint and rendering workers from Hungary and other parts of Europe to fill the labor gap.

Many of her European employees returned home when Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. She found it difficult to replace them due to the costs and paperwork associated with navigating the new immigration rules. Finn currently employs about 80 people, which is about half the number she wants to market for more business. She said the company is working with two local universities to train the skills needed for young people, which can be time consuming.

James Cole, who runs a flower farm in Lincolnshire, said investing in automation is also a long-term outlook. “There are some automatic bunching machines. We are considering a robot planter for tulip bulbs, but no technology. At least a year away.”

High living costs also make the UK less attractive to many EU workers, said Julian Stan, who came to the UK as a seasonal worker from Romania before establishing the recruitment agency 300 Spartans in Boston two years ago. rice field. “People no longer choose England,” he said.

A Romanian migrant worker harvesting flowers on a farm in Lincolnshire, England earlier this year.


Photo:

oli scarff / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Write to Isabel Calls isabel.coles@wsj.com

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British companies are looking for more European workers. The government says no.

Source link British companies are looking for more European workers. The government says no.

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