Farmers turn to Filipino workers after Brexit disrupts the market

WORKERS from the Philippines have started at Jersey farms after the impact of Brexit reduced the number of seasonal staff.

Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (29997158)
Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (29997158)

Christine Hellio, of Manor Farm in St Ouen, has spoken about the positive experience she has had employing four workers from the Southeast-Asian country.

The men, aged between 25 and 31, obtained visas from the UK as well as local work permits to enable them to join her farm.

‘The Farmers Union help us to bring them in,’ said Mrs Hellio. ‘Other farmers also go via the union, who work with an agency in the Philippines to recruit workers. The farm workers need a permit to be employed with me and can only work on my farm.’

Mrs Hellio added that the Filipino workers were ‘keeping the farming industry going at the moment’. She explained that while her Portuguese employees had been happy to return after Brexit, a number of her Polish workers did not come back.

‘Their economy has changed and they’re a little worried about Brexit,’ said Mrs Hellio.

‘Finding people to do farm work has always been a problem. Some people think it’s all about driving tractors, but it’s very manual work and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

‘It is really lovely and refreshing that our Filipino workers are happy to be in our field. We’d have no hesitation in recruiting another group.’

Mrs Hellio, who has been running the farm for 34 years with her husband Didier, also employed workers from the Philippines from February to October last year. Her new group of workers arrived at Manor Farm in December and are due to remain in Jersey until August or September.

She added: ‘One of my workers from last time has asked if he can come back and we are really looking forward to having him here again, hopefully in February. It’s really nice that somebody wants to come back who has tried and likes the work.

‘They are the happiest people I have ever worked with. They seem to have adapted really well and we’re looking forward to another seven months working with them. As far as I am concerned we are a team and a family. We have Portuguese, Filipino and Polish workers all working together. To know that everybody is happy and content is really important.’

Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers Union, explained that the impact of Brexit had led to more farm workers being recruited from further afield.

‘Since the Brexit vote in 2016 the economy has improved significantly in Poland compared to when they first came to work in Jersey around 2001. So it was getting more and more difficult to find workers from Eastern Europe. A couple of years ago we started to look around for another source of labour.’

Mr Le Maistre said that a contact of the union in Jersey had heard of Filipino people being employed through an agency in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A total of 18 workers were recruited in February 2020 on a nine-month contract.

‘That all went very well,’ said Mr Le Maistre. ‘By word of mouth more growers in Jersey were interested in staff for 2021. By the end of this month we’ll have already got 35 Filipino workers in and another 15 are coming by the end of this week. So we will have 50 Filipino workers across farms in Jersey for 2021.’

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