Produce workers ‘nabbed from farms by hospitality recruiters’
Hospitality recruiters have attempted to recruit seasonal pickers from farms in a bid to stem labour shortages, a trade body has claimed.
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, told CityA.M., that recruiters were attempting to recruit people to work in bars “wherever they could find them.”
“Particularly in the summer, competition for labour was so intense,” he explained. The situation has not improved much now, he added.
Seasonal produce work demanded physical labour in a way serving drinks did not, Ward added.
The hospitality sector has been struggling to recruit, particularly for skilled roles such as chefs, in the wake of the pandemic and Brexit. Many overseas workers left the country last year, leaving behind pub and restaurant jobs.
Like many sectors, wages have risen for picking jobs. Some broccoli pickers in Lincolnshire were being paid £30 an hour while other workers can earn up to £1,000 a week, the British Growers Association said.
“It’s not cheap labour, workers are usually paid substantially above the National Living Wage. It’s more about people who want to do this outdoor work,” Ward said.
The group is calling for the government to continue its seasonal workers permit scheme into 2022. “We need that announcement quickly because people are making decisions about planting crops now.”
Elsewhere, pubs and restaurants have called for a ‘Covid recovery visa’ to enable overseas workers to fill labour gaps.
The Food and Drink Federation’s Ian Wright said empty supermarket shelves were partly down to a gap of half a million people from the farm-to-fork supply chain, The Times reported.
“Remember 45 per cent of logistic journeys in the UK are food distribution. The consequence of that is that in the hospitality industry over the last six to ten weeks, 20 per cent of orders are not showing up. That is an unprecedented number.
“For supermarkets it’s similar. It’s worth underlining that there is enough food but it is choice that is being restricted.”