Call for new seasonal workers scheme

WEIR CALLS FOR SUCCESSOR TO SEASONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKERS SCHEME

The SNP has pressed the Scotland Secretary on concerns within the farming and fruit growers sector over UK Government plans to end the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) from next year.

The scheme allows EU accession state workers to harvest crops on farms in the UK for periods up to six months. Plans to end the scheme from 2013 have caused worries among producers who fear that they will be unable to attract seasonal workers.

SNP Business and Enterprise spokesperson Mike Weir MP raised the issue at Scottish Questions and, earlier, at a debate in Westminster Hall.

Mr Weir said:

“There are growing concerns within the sector over the ending of this scheme, with some producers warning it could lead to shortages of certain produce. It is crucial that the UK Government devise a successor scheme and the industry needs to have confidence that this is on the agenda now.

“The UK Government previously attempted to end the scheme in 2010 but, after the industry raised concerns, it won a reprieve. The same needs to happen again to secure the future of the sector.

“This is a vital part of the Scottish economy, and particularly of areas such as Angus – in total the horticultural industry, fruit vegetables and flower production contributed some £241 million to the Scottish economy in 2010, the total for the UK is over £3billion.

“It is unfortunate that this excellent scheme has become enmeshed in arguments about immigration when the two issues are totally separate.

“There have been longstanding difficulties in getting sufficient labour for seasonal work and if they are unable to do so this could have a devastating effect on the local industry which is an important part of our local economy. It is not just the direct picking jobs which are provided by horticulture but the whole infrastructure behind it from administration, processing, packing and transporting the fruit, which by its nature has to be done quickly and efficiently contributing many full time jobs for local people.

“Food and drink is a Scottish success story at a time when other industries have struggled and economic conditions have been tough – it is crucial that the UK Government act to safeguard the future of this sector.”