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Staff shortages increase

A total of 99% of seasonal workers on British farms come from Eastern Europe. Two-thirds of these come from Romania and Bulgaria.

Kent-based AG Recruitment and Management works in Romania to supply labour for 80 growers across the UK.

Over the next few months it needs to find 4,000 people to pick strawberries, raspberries, and eventually apples and pears. The agency is nowhere near that target, and is having to call farmers to say it will not have enough pickers for them.

According to co-director, Estera Amesz, the numbers of people wanting to work in Britain fell sharply after Brexit. A key issue was the fall in the value of the pound. She says it is also down to the uncertainty; people aren't sure what documents they now need.

"We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest. Thirty to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it's a handful. We used to take the crème de la crème. Now, we are scraping the barrel."

We have highlighted the growing problem of staff shortages before, but they are now becoming acute in many sectors.

The BBC included the above snippets in a recent report on the crisis in fruit picking. But the problem is far from being restricted to seasonal farm workers.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation reported that May survey figures showed "another severe drop in staff availability".

With employment levels at a record high, the only way that the current lack of staff will not become chronic is if Brexit plays out particularly badly and the economy stalls. Not the intended result of taking back control. The suggestion that UK staff are ready, willing and waiting for immigrants to return home in order to take up the resulting jobs is laughable.

Seldom considered when there is talk of immigration policy is whether the UK remains an attractive place for overseas workers. The weak pound, anti-immigrant sentiment and uncertainty about future status are not selling points for those considering where to go to earn their living. Ministers who speak of the UK constructing an immigration policy that will suit our purposes seem to imagine that EU workers are straining at the leash to be allowed in; that is no longer the case. The arrogance is breathtaking.

At Extraman, we are fortunate in that London continues to thrive; however, even here, we have seen a dramatic fall in EU workers since the referendum. Wages have risen and are likely to continue to rise as employers chase the best candidates. However, the thought that UK workers have been held back and are now filling vacancies does not stand scrutiny. At one of our larger customers recently we had 52 staff working regularly of whom 11 were UK nationals. The wages are good, the work reliable, well-paid overtime is available and permanent positions are regularly offered. We have never targeted overseas staff and would certainly like to employ indigenous people if they are reliable and hard working. But finding more than the occasional native worker is rare indeed.

Of all the government's hopeless calls during the excrutiating Brexit farce, its lack of direction on immigration is little reported but may well end up as one of its most serious areas of neglect. As a company whose livelihood derives from employing people we, like many other firms in many other industries, watch the grim proceedings with disbelief.
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