Tim Chambers family business has been growing all kinds of fruit for decades. The land of the Kent farm is full of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries ripe for harvest. But this year, there arent enough people to pick them.
“The hardest season Ive ever experienced,” says the grower. “Normally, we have nearly 2,000 European seasonal workers here to help pick, but this summer we have about 25% fewer people.”
Due to the shortage of staff, Chambers has not been able to harvest some fields this season, forcing him to rot tons of fruit. A grimace pulls over his face. “You work on such a crop all year round. That you have to have it mist edged, thats so disappointing. I dont go to those fields anymore, I just dont want to see them.”
Correspondent Fleur Launspach visited family business Chambers:
It is the combination of corona and post-Brexit immigration rules that have caused these staff shortages in the United Kingdom. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have left the country, causing factories, fruit and vegetable growers and transport companies with a distressing shortage of staff.
Corona travel restrictions and isolation rules have made seasonal work more complicated, yet it is mainly the limited work permits that affect Chambers company. After Brexit, the entire sector has received 30,000 temporary work permits for seasonal workers, but it takes up to three times as much. “Policymakers could solve this with a finger cut,” he says. “They dont listen to what we need on the land, because its about Brexit politics.”
In addition to the horticultural sector, the hospitality industry and the food and meat industry also faces major labour shortages. Slaughterhouses and meat processors therefore consult with the UK government whether prisoners and ex-detainees can be deployed to fill open vacancies.
Sold-out milkshakes in McDonalds
Moreover, there are not enough truck drivers to bring the products from the field or factories to the supermarkets. A shortage of around 90,000 truck drivers leads to empty shelves in the UK supermarkets, sold-out milkshakes in McDonalds branches, and the corona vaccines are now being delayed in general practitioners and vaccination centres.
Ryan Pulleyn, the director of Pulleyn transportation company in Reading, thinks things are only going to get worse in the coming months. Hes worried about Christmas already. “If the industry cant hold it right now, we cant handle the pressure on the holidays at all.”
To make matters worse, the trajectory of drivers has been lagging behind during the pandemic, minimizing the rise of new people. In the meantime, transport industry employers are fighting over drivers, resulting in wages rising. Some supermarket chains now offer drivers as much as the salary of a pension advisor or home lawyer.
Pulleyn has also had to increase the salary for his drivers. Its inevitable that consumers will see those extra costs in the products they buy, he says. “But with higher prices, we dont solve staff shortages.”
The transport sector has repeatedly asked the UK Government to provide drivers from the European Union with a temporary work visa. Pulleyn joins that: “Brexit is Brexit,” he says. “But can we have a realistic conversation about how we get necessary staff across the border?”
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnsons government requires companies to hire British personnel, rather than lean on foreign workforce. According to the Minister of Economic Affairs Kwasi Kwarteng, the country needs to get rid of “short-term thinking” and invest more in educating its own population.