Friday, September 13, 2013

More job opportunities for women

The ending of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme is good news for feminism.

Of course the farmers and large-scale agri-business operations will complain.  Over the last decade they have had via agencies an endless supply of immigrant field workers who are compliant, undemanding and easily disposable.  From an employer's perspective what's not to like?

Now the farmers will have to recruit seasonal workers locally.  They will have to rebuild their networks, make sure the recruits are reasonably well cared for, even (shrieks from the farmers) pay them a bit more.  The result will be villages that are more socially cohesive, where more money is kept in the local economy, where there are more job opportunities for local people.

Not least more job opportunities for women, since seasonal agricultural work was traditionally taken up by women supplementing their household income with part-time and temporary seasonal jobs.  With the introduction of the agency system supplying cheapo immigrants these local jobs for women almost totally disappeared.  The impact on the rural economy has been devastating.

No doubt desk-bound townies will chunter on about these not being desirable jobs for women.  And as things stand they would be right - agency staff are treated appallingly.  But the work itself is quite pleasant - as a child in Norfolk I joined neighbours in picking carrots for two summers and completely enjoyed it (everyone was in the open air each day, everyone got to know everyone else, even ten-year-old children like myself could earn the going rate for each sack of carrots picked).

And the ending of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme will mean the relationship between employer and employee will have to change. 

At the moment, if a farmer does not like a bolshie immigrant field worker he/she can just say to the agency "I don't want that person back" and the worker simply disappears.  With local people that is less easy, even if they are recruited via the gang system.  If the farmer in Elm Tree Farm upsets one of the workers on his fields he will have to live with the consequences as that worker probably lives in the row of cottages in Elm Tree Lane and her husband drinks at The Elms pub and her kid sister works at the Elm Stores and Off-Licence. 

You can be a bad employer in the anonymity of the city.  You can be a bad employer when you are using cheapo throwaway immigrant labour.  You can't be a bad employer when everyone knows who you are and where you live, and your children go to the local school, and your wife uses the local hairdresser etc.


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