Open letter to Minster for Immigration re SAWS

by James Hallett

The following letter has been sent to Mark Harper MP from British Growers Association, and the undersigned.


16th August 2013

Mr Mark Harper MP
Minister for Immigration
Home Office
2 Marsham Street

Dear Mr Harper

SAWS Review

We thank you for your recent communications with many organisations and individuals representing UK Fresh Produce growers and labour providers. We understand that the Government is considering the MAC’s comprehensive report and await announcement of your position on the matter.

We would like to jointly reiterate some very key points regarding Horticulture and SAWS.

• SAWS currently accounts for 33% of all seasonal workers engaged in the sector and provides a workforce that is uniquely flexible and reliable. Owing to the very short shelf life nature of horticultural crops, it is essential that this pool of labour remains available.
• This scheme is a licensed and well managed scheme for controlling migrant workers. It actively reduces immigration, as workers return home after six months. It is likely that, without a structured scheme such as SAWS, EU nationals will use the sector as stepping stone to permanent roles in other industries and seek residence in the UK. In short, the absence of any structured seasonal worker scheme for the horticulture could lead to a marked rise in immigration.
• Every 3.5 seasonal worker roles support one permanent role in UK horticulture. The sector already employs over 100,000 people. There is evidence that businesses will choose to make investments for growth outside of the UK without the SAWS bedrock of labour, and this would lead to a contraction in numbers employed by the industry.
• There is no actual evidence that sufficient numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians will return to the UK to work in horticulture after restrictions are lifted. The sector has experienced such shortfalls in the past. The impact on food supply to consumers will be immediate and visible. Consumers rightly expect to be able to buy British fresh produce and retailers consistently confirm high levels of demand. It would be fundamentally wrong not to be able to meet this demand and be faced with increased worker immigration numbers to resolve the situation.
• The risk of an increase in recruitment and training costs without SAWS is significant and this will impact upon costs of production, as will any increased labour prices resulting from a shortfall in worker supply. The competitiveness of UK grown fresh produce will be affected. This can be resolved in one of two ways – through higher food prices or through increased imports of cheaper produce, where available.

• The resident labour market “SAWS” scheme launched this year accounts for less than 0.5% of the sector’s total needs. Clearly this is a useful development and we would like to see this expanded, especially with current levels of UK unemployment. However enlargement of this UK worker scheme will take time, will need further government support and, realistically, will only ever provide part of the solution.
• Recent Government announcements such as the Agri Tech strategy have given recognition to the strategic importance of UK primary food production. Horticulture is the sector with the greatest opportunity for profitable growth. Importantly, the consequent opportunity for new job creation, underpinned by the SAWS, is significant. Now is not the time to be taking risks with this successful sector of the economy.

Planning and organisation for 2014’s SAWS workers needs to be underway now. We are currently in a hiatus position, not knowing how many licensed workers the industry will be able to recruit, and from where, without clarity from government about the future of the scheme.

We are writing to you in the first instance and plan to release this as an open letter to the media next Tuesday.

We urge you to introduce a replacement to SAWS which is scalable in the future, rather than implement no scheme at all. This would be a positive decision for UK Horticulture, so that our industry can plan for its future business. Equally important, an early decision is vital.

Yours sincerely


James Hallett - CEO, British Growers Association

Colin Hall - Director, BTF Partnership 50 Club Horticultural Employers' Association

Rob Orme - Chief Executive, Concordia (UK) Ltd

Adrian Barlow - English Apples and Pears

Beverly J Dixon - Group HR Director, G's Fresh

James Davies - HOPS Labour Solutions

Hayley Campbell-Gibbons - Chief Adviser Horticulture and Potatoes, NFU