Thursday, 28 July 2011

Migrant workers praised

“Lincolnshire’s migrant workers are providing a valuable service by helping to fill Britain’s supermarket shelves.”  So says the Reverend Alan Robson, Lincolnshire’s Agricultural Chaplain for the past 11 years, and a man who helped establish Integration Lincolnshire in order to help to prevent a repeat of the riots that saw Portuguese migrants targeted in Boston following England’s exit from the 2004 European Football Championships.

“It’s been easy for some newspapers to demonise migrant workers but with English students and the unemployed not wanting agricultural jobs their arrival has helped ensure local businesses survive. Those young men and women want work and money to build a future, little different from the majority of local people who are working” said Robson who believes that around a third of migrant workers will chose to make their homes here with similar numbers returning home permanently and the rest moving between locations in search of work.

23-year-old Lithuanian Simona Lasaite has lived and worked in Britain since 2006, when she moved to be re-united with her parents who, seeking employment, had earlier departed from the former eastern bloc country. All now work at the Westmorelands Farm of Keys [E M Key and Son] near Sleaford. Originally established in the 1920s this is a family farm, manufacturing a range of fruit and vegetables that are supplied to leading supermarkets and other retailers. A factory on site also prepares jams and conserves for sale to butchers, delis and farm shops. This summer the company was employing close to 40 workers, of which 30+ were from overseas.  Simona, as a line leader, earns slightly more than the national minimum wage paid to production operatives at the company.

“I am intending staying in Britain as the job’s that are available back home are very poorly paid and I enjoy a higher standard of living here. In general most of the local people I have met have been friendly.  I am living with my partner, a Polish man who I met here, and feel settled” said Simona.

As does 31-year-old Latvian Laura Lage, a production operative who said “I am much better off working in Britain as the job I did as a care worker for elderly people paid only a small sum. Initially I was living in a caravan but I have now found a more permanent place to live. My mistake was to use an agency to come to Britain. This cost a lot of money which took time to pay back.” 

Owner Philip Key has welcomed migrant workers saying “whilst I am not concerned about the nationality of anyone prepared to work here I was finding it difficult to fill vacancies with local people. The wages I can pay are largely dictated by what the supermarkets are prepared to pay for our 
products. ”

With Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting he would be seeking to curb immigration to Britain Philip Key would be concerned if “those who are ringing up from overseas seeking work were prevented from doing so. I think every food processor in Lincolnshire would also have concerns.”

Alan Robson, founder of Lincolnshire’s Farmer Support Group, agrees saying “Lincolnshire provides over a quarter of the UK supermarkets vegetable products. That sector is currently dependent on migrant workers to plant, pick, process and pack its products on farms and factories. So without them the implication is obvious, there would be less food and it would be more expensive.”

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