onsdag 19 september 2018

Will strawberries rot in British fields?

Conflicting predictions are being made by Brexit opponents.
  • Brexit will lead to the collapse of British agriculture and industry.
  • There will not be sufficient workers for seasonal agricultural work.
Both predictions cannot be true. Assuming a near, but not total collapse, there will be millions of unemployed workers willing to pick strawberries at a pittance wage.

Fantasy aside, there are not a fixed number of workers in a country, any more than there is a fixed amount of work to be done. Unemployment in the UK is allegedly at a very low level, though this conceals big regional and sectoral differences. Unemployment figures are also politically loaded. There has, for decades, been a drive to remove the unemployed, in one way or another, from the numbers of those seeking work or potentially economically active. The amount of harassment needed to claim benefit and remain as an unemployed statistic is an incentive to drop off the list, thereby becoming classified as not economically active. Thus the alleged full employment is a heavily massaged statistic.

The cry from employers that they will not get enough immigrant workers is, in the main, a plea to allow them to continue to pay skinflint wages. If it is worth their while, people not economically active will join and augment the workforce: students on vacation, over-50s who have given up the hopeless task of finding work, active elderly pensioners, even people who are unfit for work.

For decades, employers have been difficult about employing people in indifferent health or over 50. If more people are to enter employment, employers will have to be more generous and accommodating. That would be an excellent outcome from Brexit.

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