The market gardeners feared this. Two years after the Brexit vote, workers in Eastern Europe are deserting picking.
Strawberries are rotting. “The crops are rotting for lack of manpower”, warns the NFU, the first British agricultural union . Already down 12% last year, the number of pickers drops by half this year. There are 4,000 pairs of arms missing for the next harvest of raspberries, potatoes, pears … The fault Brexit ? 90% of seasonal workers come from Eastern Europe, two-thirds of them from Romania and Bulgaria .
But Romanians are no longer rushing to work on the large farms in Kent, admits Estera Amesz, co-director of AG Recruitment and Management, on the BBC. His agency opened an office in Bucharest to supply 80 English laborers. “Before, we had queues in front of the door. Today, a good day, they are a handful . ”
On the other side of the Channel, producers have tried to compensate with premiums, better equipped housing … But nothing works. “The fall of the pound sterling since the Brexit vote in 2016 has made work in the UK less attractive to foreigners,” said Philip Daniels, a professor of political science at Newcastle University. This phenomenon is accentuated by the relative improvement of the conditions of employment for these workers in their own countries. “
Money does not explain everything: “Brexit returns the image of a country much less welcoming,” laments Philipp Daniels. It is in the agricultural regions of the east that the pro-Brexit vote was the strongest, he observes. “The European workforce is vital there. “