Preparing for a Shortage of Labor after Brexit

Preparing for a Shortage of Labor after Brexit

On June 23 the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU. While the vote, called Brexit in the media, democratically expressed the view of the majority, it took a lot of people by surprise.

The process of exiting the EU will mean long negotiations. Planned to begin next year, the negotiations will take two years. So the future isn’t here yet. However, in the wake of the Brexit vote, industry by industry, everyone is wondering about what it will mean to their business. One of the businesses that is looking to adapt after the Brexit is agriculture.

Mechanized Farms

The potential impact of the June 23 Brexit vote on the agriculture industry has to do with the workforce it employs. Nearly the entire workforce in the country’s crop-based farming comes from other countries of the EU.

After the Brexit, the legal status of EU migrants becomes uncertain. British farms having access to European workers is vital to their business. For many tasks on the farms, seasonal workers are employed. But Britain leaving the EU could change everything. Many farms could face with a shortage of workers.

That’s why a lot of farms in Britain are thinking ahead. Mechanization of farming is a growing trend in the UK as the impact of Brexit could mean they will have to rely more and more on automation.

“While it is still unclear what immigration controls will be introduced post-Brexit, further automation is most likely in sectors such as food manufacturing and agriculture,” said Adam Corlett at the Resolution Foundation, a London-based think tank.

At a a vegetable farm in Goole, a North England port town, Mr. Poskitt installed seven carrot-sorting machines a few weeks ago. Using image-detection technology, these machines that were engineered in Switzerland separate the carrots. They cost $3.1 million and can sort up to 140,000 carrots an hour. The machines are being monitored by just six workers. A job that used to be done by hand by 30 workers.

What It Means for the Workers

EU-born workers accounted for 65% of the U.K.’s non-U.K.-born agricultural-sector workforce in 2014 says a study by The Confederation of British Industry, a trade group.

The horticulture sector is a $4 billion business. Significantly, 90% of the labor in 2016 to date comprises EU migrants, said the British Growers Association, an industry body. Many of those workers are seasonal and have a job harvesting crops in the spring and the summer.

At Mr. Poskitt’s farm, production is around 70,000 tons of carrots a year. Additionally, the farm also grows parsnips, pumpkins and other crops, with sales figures of $46 million annually.

The farm employs 250 workers.  Out of those 250 more than three-quarters are from the EU. Usually from Eastern European countries like Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Aiste Likociute, from Lithuania’s southern city of Silute, came to the farm eight years ago as a seasonal worker. Now at 32, she worries about the future and the changes that Brexit will bring.

“You don’t know what they are going to do,” she said. “I have bought a house here. I like what I am doing.”


Image source: here.