Scottish soft-fruit sector growth needs solid labour scheme

Scottish soft fruit growers from Angus yesterday ramped up the pressure in their campaign to get a seasonal workers scheme in place this summer. They sought the support of Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing who visited East Scryne farm, to meet farmer James Porter and other members of the Angus Growers co-operative, which supplies strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to major outlets in the UK and Europe.

Porter, NFU Scotland’s soft fruit chairman, said the business had enough workers at this stage of the season. However, he expected to be 15% short of requirements by August and EU labour would not be enough to meet demand. “We urgently need a seasonal workers scheme which will apply to people from outside the EU, because the weakness of the pound no longer makes working in the UK such an attractive option,” he said. “There are already Ukrainians working in Germany and hundreds of thousands of them in Poland where there’s not a minimum wage. We have a national minimum wage and we used to get a lot of Ukrainian students. We know they’re willing to come here.”

Secretary Ewing toured the fruit tunnels. The soft fruit sector contributes an estimated £134 million to the economy. Speaking after the meeting, he said that the industry’s growth was at risk from Brexit due to the prospect of barriers to trade and labour being introduced.

Mr Ewing added that he had pressed the UK Government on the need for a seasonal workers scheme at his last two meetings with Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Pressandjournal.co.uk further quoted him as saying: “The UK Government could end this ongoing uncertainty by committing to remaining in the EU single market and customs union – a position the Scottish Government has continually argued for since the referendum. Such a position would demonstrate to seasonal workers that Scotland, and the whole of the UK, remains an open and welcoming place to live and work.”

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