Seasonal worker blow to Scots growers

News that a valued scheme that has brought thousands of seasonal workers to Scotland to help with harvest is to be scrapped has been met with bitter disappointment by NFU Scotland.

For 60 years, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) has allowed seasonal migrants – predominately students from Eastern Europe – to come to the UK in summer months to assist specialist growers involved in soft fruit, vegetables and salad crops with the busy harvest period.

It was a popular scheme that regularly saw students employed through SAWS return to Scottish farms each summer.

The decision to scrap the scheme was confirmed in a statement by the Minister of State for Immigration for the UK Government at Westminster, Mark Harper.

NFU Scotland’s soft fruit working group chairman, Peter Thomson said: “SAWS has been a popular and successful scheme with both Scottish growers and those students who have come to work here and its demise is a bitter disappointment.

“For many years, the scheme has provided a valuable source of hard-working enthusiastic staff across the busy summer months, keen to come to Scotland to work but to also enjoy all that Scotland has to offer.

“The terms of the scheme saw those workers required to return home at the end of the harvest, but often promoting Scotland to others as a great place to visit and work.

“There will undoubtedly be ramifications for our soft fruit, vegetable and salad growers from this decision.

“While it is the UK Government’s belief that labour gaps will be filled by those currently unemployed in the UK, past experience has shown that it has been incredibly difficult to recruit temporary staff requirements from local sources.

“These specialist sectors are a real success story in Scotland and their expansion has, to a certain extent, been built on the availability of harvest workers. The ending of SAWS will generate a great deal of uncertainty within individual businesses as a tried and tested source of temporary staff will have been lost .

“We want Scottish production of soft fruit, vegetables and specialist crops to continue to grow but the short and long-term impact of this disappointing decision will take some time to digest.”

Mr Harper announced that the seasonal workers scheme will now close at the end of this year.