Russia-Ukraine tensions cause labour shortage for farmers
A MAJOR escalation of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine has scuppered farmers’ plans to bring in non-EU seasonal staff to work on Island farms.
Following an appeal from the Jersey Farmers Union last year when members feared they would have to leave crops in the fields because of a labour shortage, Home Affairs responded by changing immigration policy to allow in 130 workers – with limits on how long they could stay – each year for a trial period of two years.
The union’s first port of call was Ukraine, but a declaration of martial law before Christmas, following an altercation between the country’s navy and Russian forces off the coast of Crimea, prevented young men of military age seeking outside work.
‘Our demographic for workers is young men between the ages of 20 and 30, and that is the first group that is likely to be called up,’ JFU president Peter Le Maistre said.
‘We are looking everywhere for workers and we have somewhere in mind but we have not yet sorted out contracts, so I would rather not say where it is yet until we have those contracts in our hands.
‘But we are hoping to get some people here by early February.’
The current dry weather is enabling farmers to get ahead with planting the 2018 Jersey Royal potato crop, but Mr Le Maistre says a few growers are experiencing severe staff shortages.
‘Others have managed to find enough workers and the dry weather means some farmers have been able to use automated planting equipment on the flatter land, but the côtils have to be planted by hand, and that is where some growers are having staff problems,’ he said.
Over the past two decades the Island’s seasonal farm staff have largely come from Eastern Europe, in particular Poland. Improving economies in those countries, uncertainty over Brexit, a weak pound and better job opportunities elsewhere have led to a labour shortage in the UK and western Europe.
Seasonal workers began arriving earlier this month, with the biggest influx due in at the weekend as potato growers step up planting Islandwide.
The biggest potato grower, The Jersey Royal Company, expects to employ around 400 seasonal staff this season. They source their staff directly, mostly from Poland and Romania.
Marketing director William Church says they are not facing any serious shortage.
‘On paper everything is looking good but we have had some issues,’ he said.
‘A couple have been delayed coming back and some have decided against it, but we put the feelers out among our contacts and we were able to recruit more people.’