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Migration policy: ‘Agriculture doesn’t even get a mention’

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THE struggles facing the agriculture industry have not been given proper consideration by the panel formulating the Island’s long-awaited population policy, the Jersey Farmers’ Union has said.

Peter Le Maistre

During a public hearing, Peter Le Maistre, chairman of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said that he has not yet been consulted by the Migration Policy Board, chaired by Constable Chris Taylor, and is uncertain whether he will be.

The board has been tasked with producing Jersey’s population policy by April next year. A policy was initially promised in 2016 and the Island has now seen net-inward migration of more than 1,000 people for the last four years, which is unprecedented.

During a session before the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, Mr Le Maistre said that he was concerned that the scope of work document produced by the board did not mention support for his industry.

‘I notice on page three it says: “as a result of actions during the terms of office we will support and strengthen our finance sector, support and strengthen our tourism industry”, and agriculture doesn’t even get a mention,’ he said.

Representatives of Jersey Finance Limited also said that they had not had any engagement with the Migration Policy Board at this stage either.

Mr Le Maistre said that farmers had been happy with proposals in the draft population policy put together by the previous government under Senator Ian Gorst, which was withdrawn last autumn under Chief Minister John Le Fondré.

‘Almost a year ago we were going to be in a place, which was really coming from Ian Gorst, of going to move a system of work permits for everyone and then four-year licences after that and criminal checks,’ he said.

‘From the agricultural industry point of view we were very happy with most of that because as far as seasonal labour is concerned, the industry has always done better when we have had work permits in place.

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‘This goes back to the pre-EU days. And we had a two-year period when the Polish first arrived and they were still outside of the EU.’

He added: ‘The reason it works well for us is the seasonal staff come to the Island, they are on your farm and they can’t work for anyone else, which is almost the reverse of what’s happening at the moment, where people are leaving our farms and going to work for other businesses.

‘It makes life very difficult – you think you have got ten staff and two weeks later you will have eight because two have left.’

Later during the hearing, Jersey Finance chief executive Joe Moynihan said that his industry always tried to recruit local staff where possible.

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‘The financial services industry don’t bring people into Jersey if there is an alternative,’ he said.

‘If the skills are available to us in Jersey, that’s where we go. If you look at the numbers in the latest years, over 83% of new hires are recruited locally – that includes school leavers and graduates.’

He added that he felt time-limited work permits would make it more difficult to persuade staff to come to Jersey to work in financial services because they would not be able to make a permanent home in the Island.

‘The policy that we have here means that people can come here and very quickly feel part of the community,’ he said.

The hearing was chaired by Deputy Jess Perchard, and also attended by Senator Kristina Moore, Constables Richard Vibert and Karen Shenton-Stone and Deputy Steve Ahier.

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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