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MP worries over possible end to SAWS scheme

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Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff has stated that if the United Kingdom ends the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), the country's agricultural sector could suffer.

Because the European Union has expanded in recent years with the addition of 12 new members, the government wants to abolish the program. The Home Office feels that the agricultural sector can fill its future labor needs from within the EU.

The SAWS scheme was originally implemented in the 1940s to allow farmers and fruit growers to hire non-EU labor on a temporary seasonal basis. The program was set to be scrapped at the end of 2006 but was extended to nationals of Bulgaria and Romania after other work restrictions were placed on them.

The restrictions were put in place as a reaction to higher than expected immigration from the Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.

However, the worry is that workers from the new EU member states will not want to work in the agricultural sector, as most of them can take any job they want.

"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," Luff said.

"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."

Richard Hirst, horticulture chairman for the National Farmers Union, feels that the EU labor pool is drying up.

"The scheme is absolutely vital, not only to horticulture but other sectors as well and with changes to the gang master rules the demands on numbers are greater than ever. 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," he said.