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West Sussex Growers Association calls for 70k EU workers and a £20k wage threshold

West Sussex Growers Association is calling for 70,000 seasonal workers, inclusive of ornamental plant growers, and the minimum salary to allow workers into the UK to be reduced from £25,600 to £20,000. WSGA’s John Hall said: “Most WSGA horticultural businesses have invested heavily in automated systems and are trialling robots and robotic systems with universities and engineering development companies; however, effective robotic systems are still a long way off.

“In the meantime, access to labor remains the number one priority. It is essential that the Government returns to a position where, with minimal rules and regulations, UK agricultural and horticultural businesses can employ non-UK citizens to fill seasonal and non-seasonal positions.

“Since the advent of Brexit, leading to restrictions with access to workers from the EU, problems with labor shortages have become much worse. WSGA surveys carried out regularly throughout the summer show an average weekly shortfall of between 10% to 12.5% of the required workforce.

“WSGA members have engaged with Job Centre Plus representatives from Bognor Regis and Chichester to further explore ways and means of attracting more job seekers into the local Horticultural Industry. This has had very limited success. We understand that local unemployment remains relatively low. Horticultural businesses also advertise continuously in an attempt to attract local people to take up employment with them; but again, with little success.

“WSGA and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) continue to press Government to increase the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) numbers from the current 30,000 to 70,000; so far without success. Competition for the very limited numbers of workers amongst other sectors has intensified; with some businesses offering large signing on fees and other incentives to recruit staff.

“A points-based Skilled Worker route was introduced on 1 January 2021 as part of the new immigration system. This route will include an element of tradeable points, where any occupation on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be allocated 20 tradeable points; this effectively reduces the relevant salary thresholds by 20%. However, the minimum salary for “starter” positions should be reduced from £25,600 to £20,000 to meet the immediate needs of the agriculture, horticulture, and food and drink industries.

“Throughout 2021, most horticultural businesses in West Sussex have struggled to recruit sufficient numbers of workers to carry out full time and seasonal operations. It should be stressed that this concerns full time as well as seasonal positions, and also all skills levels including operational picking and packing jobs, team leaders and supervisors, drivers, machine operators, and technicians.

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