More criticism at ending UK SAWS migration scheme

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At a meeting with the Parliamentary British Fruit Industry Group on 13 November 2007, Hugh Robertson, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said that the UK government's plan to end the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) in 2010 would risk ending a "huge British success story".

SAWS was introduced during the 1940s to aid the agricultural industry in Britain by allowing foreign students to temporarily take employment in the industry on a seasonal basis.

However, since the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union at the start of 2007, the UK has been moving towards restricting SAWS to non-EU/EEA foreign students by earmarking 40 percent of the SAWS quota for nationals of both new EU-member states.

Starting in January 2008, the entire quota of SAWS placements will be earmarked for nationals of Bulgaria and Romania, denying farmers the available pool of labor from outside the EU.

"We should have no embarrassment about backing British top fruit," Robertson said. "Without a labour source, a successful British industry will be cut off at the knees – the fruit just won't get picked."

The scheme is expected to be phased out in 2010, with the agricultural industry to depend strictly on workers from within the EU to fill their labor needs.

Robertson is not the only local politician who thinks scrapping the scheme is a bad idea.

"The problem is that people from Poland who used only to be able to come here under the SAWS scheme can now work at any job in the UK," Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff said in August.

"So they are expensively recruited by farmers and growers, they get National Insurance numbers, spend time training and then after only a short time with the grower, move on to another job."

According to Richard Hirst, horticulture chairman for the National Farmers Union, the UK Home Office is failing to recognize that lower skilled migrant workers don't find seasonal work attractive.

"The source of European labor is drying up and we will have a real problem trying to find people to plant and harvest fruit and vegetables, not to mention all the other jobs they do," Hirst said.