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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 12:18 GMT
Farmer fears harvest 'disaster'
Students harvest crop
Student migrant workers harvest celery at Stanhill Farm
A Kent farmer says the possible end of a government scheme which allows him to employ migrant workers would be "a disaster" for his business.

Toby Williams, of Stanhill Farm, near Dartford, employs about 20 non-EU workers to grow, pick and pack crops for the minimum wage of 4.85 an hour.

He said if the Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme (SAWS) ended, he could not find local people to replace them.

The Home Office said workers from the new EU countries would fill the gap.

Hard bargains

The SAWS scheme allows students from non-EU countries to work for six months in the UK.

The Home Office announced in May 2004 that the number allowed in would be reduced by 35% from 25,000 a year to 16,250 from 1 January 2005.

It would eventually be phased out to take account of the availability of labour from the 10 countries which joined the EU last year.

Mr Williams said if the scheme ended or was cut back he would not find local replacement workers to bring in his harvest.

"It is proving increasingly difficult, especially in this area, as there is not a ready supply of local people to do the work for the short season we have in the summer," he said.

Threaten livelihoods

Farmers say that buyers of their produce strike such hard bargains they cannot pay more than the minimum wage.

But for the students, the money is much more than they could earn at home.

"Students are intelligent people - they are young, brave and they can do hard work," said one at Stanhill Farm.

The National Farmers' Union said cutting the scheme will threaten the livelihoods of growers such as Mr Williams.

It has appealed to the government not to scrap the scheme.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We have not seen any evidence to suggest that accession labour is drying up or that accession country workers are not willing to do low-skilled work."

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