RPT-INSIGHT-Plunging pound and threats put EU farm workers off the UK

(Repeats story unchanged)

* EU farm workers say may avoid Britain next year

* Weaker pound makes country less attractive

* Some workers feeling less welcome after Brexit vote

* Farm owners worried for 2017 harvest

By Kate Holton

SUCKLEY, England, Oct 13 For the last 18 years,
Jerzy Kwapniewski has left his home in Poland to spend the
summer months picking apples and hops on a farm in central
England. He plans to look for work in Germany next year.

The 50-year-old seasonal worker is one of many east
Europeans who, shaken by the fallout from Britain’s vote to
leave the EU, have either left the country early or indicated a
reluctance to return next year.

They are being driven away by a sharp fall in the pound that
has eroded the value of their wages back home and concern for
their safety as the anti-immigration rhetoric which fuelled the
vote spills over into racist attacks.

“It’s a pity,” Kwapniewski said, standing in brilliant
sunshine between rows of cider apple trees. “After … 18 years
coming every year I have to think that it … may change for me
and my colleagues.”

Two employment agencies that bring eastern European workers
to British farms told Reuters that in the last two months alone
they had failed to find workers to fill 600 positions.

One, Fruitful Jobs, said the number of people contacting
their Polish and Bulgarian recruitment offices had fallen by 70
percent since the June 23 referendum, compared with the usual 35
percent drop recorded for the latter stage of the season.

Each year, up to 80,000 seasonal workers come to Britain
from the European Union to help with the harvest. Farmers say
the loss of such staff threatens the wider food and farming
industry which contributes around 7 percent of economic output.

British workers show little interest in picking jobs and
immigration rules block people from outside the EU from seasonal
farm work, so the Farmers Union trade association is urging the
government to ease those terms.

Without that, it says, fruit and vegetables could be left
rotting on the ground next year, one of many unintended
consequences of the unexpected referendum decision.

The government has said it could examine the idea of
temporary work permits in the future and will seek to protect
farmers as it exits the EU and tries to improve job prospects
for Britons.

Other sectors reliant on migrant workers may also find it
harder to recruit, including construction, hospitality and the
health industry.


Food and farming contributes 108 billion pounds to the
economy, propelled by the EU seasonal workers who spread out
across fields at dawn to pick daffodils in January, strawberries
in summer, apples in September and Brussels sprouts in December.

Earning at least 7.20 pounds ($9) an hour, the work has
proved hugely popular with people prepared to travel abroad for
wages that go further in their home countries. But while the
hourly wage translated into 41 Polish zlotys before the vote, it
now equates to 34.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the vote to leave the EU
was a cry for lower immigration, prompting her government to
talk about making it harder to hire foreign workers and
“flushing out” those firms that do not comply.

The government has since backtracked but the impact of the
hardening sentiment is already being felt on the fields.

“The message we’re sending out is: ‘don’t come here, you’re
not welcome, we don’t want you and actually you might get beaten
up,'” Ali Capper, a partner in Stocks Farm in Worcestershire and
Kwapniewski’s employer, told Reuters.

As chair of the Horticulture and Potatoes Board at the
National Farmers Union, Capper is being inundated with reports
of farms struggling to secure the workers they need.

“Cornish brewers expecting labour at the end of the summer
said they didn’t turn up. A hops brewer in Kent said half his
Polish team didn’t turn up, and rates of attrition are growing
for vegetable growers,” she said.

Andrea Leadsom, minister for farming and a campaigner for
Brexit, said she is open to a proposal for a workers’ permit
scheme to attract staff once Britain has left the EU but she
hoped British workers would also show interest.

“Supporting our farmers and protecting the environment will
form an important part of our exit from the EU,” said the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
without giving details.

The industry worked with government in 2013 to try to get
British job seekers to take up picking jobs, but to little

“Working on the land is seen as the lowest form of
employment,” Capper said, looking out across the Malvern Hills
that once inspired Edward Elgar to compose his patriotic march,
Pomp and Circumstance.

“If what we’re hearing anecdotally is correct … we’ve got
a crisis coming at us in 2017.”

Spread over 200 acres of rolling countryside in
Worcestershire, Stocks Farm grows apples and enough hops to make
46 million pints of beer each year, helped by 70 seasonal staff.

The weather-beaten Kwapniewski, who starts at dawn to pick
apples by hand, cradling them so they do not bruise, said he had
originally viewed the job as something a student would do, but
had come to feel part of a team, coming back each year.

Now he has looked into whether he could find similar work in
Germany or Austria, the first signs of a change brewing.

“Your government is not giving any direction,” he said. “We
were grateful to the country that let us earn something.”
($1 = 0.8042 pounds)

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Philippa Fletcher)

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