Busting the Myths in the Government's 'Myth-Busting Guide' to Crappy Jobs
The government wants us to pick fruit for pennies and love it.
(James Hodgson / Alamy Stock Photo)
"Take Back Control" update: I hope you like toil! Today, the Times tells us in a front-page story, "Ministers are producing myth-busting guidance to help jobcentre advisers explain to unemployed Britons the benefits of spending the summer in a polytunnel harvesting strawberries."
This comes as two-thirds of farms have reported a shortage of applicants this year for fruit picking work. The industry employs 85,000 seasonal workers, with 95 percent coming from other EU countries. With European workers deciding there are better places to spend their summer than in a field in a country having a protracted and bigoted national meltdown, it’s time for the unemployed to step up, or we risk fruit rotting in the fields. But the ungrateful scroungers don’t want to.
The Times: "Forget long hours, hard toil and low pay. According to the government, fruit picking comes with a decent wage, a subsidised home in the countryside – and you don’t even have to bend over."
Weird that people would pass up this fantastic opportunity to get a tan and some P, so let’s take those myths in turn.
FORGET LONG HOURS
Surprisingly easy to debunk this one, given that it is contradicted five paragraphs later in the same Times article. "Applicants do need to be willing to get up early and work five-and-a-half days a week," it reads. "Picking tends to start at 6AM and continue, with breaks, until 3PM."
So that's nine hours a day x 5.5 days = 49.5 hours a week.
This is more than the UK's 48-hour working week maximum. Workers who "want" to work more than this (AKA their employers demand it) have to sign a form opting out of the limit. The 48-hour "limit" that gets ignored makes the UK a boss's paradise compared to other countries. A 40-hour week is the norm in Europe. The strike-happy French have a 35-hour limit. Limiting the hours of work has always been a concern for labour organisations because of the minor detail that working long hours slowly kills you in various ways. I wonder if that fun factoid will be on the government’s fruit picking info-sheets.
FORGET HARD TOIL
Presumably the government’s myth-busting guide will include lots of aspirational pictures, like a healthy young man looking proudly at a pile of apples, the evening sunshine defining his taut, tanned biceps, while a comely maiden looks wistfully at him, suggestively biting into a cherry. On the next page, two young workers will play a game of catch with an apple while a patrician boss in a straw hat approaches, bringing two massive jugs of fresh scrumpy as a reward for an easy day of enjoying the Great British Outdoors™.
Basically, they’ll probably try to sell it like some gap year to New Zealand where you’ll have the best summer of your young life and totally get your dick wet, bro. Back in reality, nobody is funding the holiday of a lifetime, but some Job Centre plus jobsworth is trying to dick someone out of their JSA for refusing to go and stay in a caravan in Norfolk for a gang master.
In the Times, Nick Marston, BSF chairman, said: "Farm work is always portrayed as very low paid and back-breaking, but it is not the arduous work it was 15 to 20 years ago. The work is almost all done standing up because the strawberries are on tabletops."
I know that sitting is the new smoking, but standing up for nine hours a day is also bad for you, and has been associated with heart disease, aching muscles, damaged feet and other health problems. Anyone who has done this kind of work rather than, idk, being Esther McVey, Work and Pensions Secretary, already knows that it hurts.
Meanwhile, the industry is honest at least with itself about the nature of the work. "There's no denying farm work can be very demanding, with early starts, odd hours and outdoor working," reported trade magazine The Grocer last year.
FORGET LOW PAY
"Jobseekers will be told that fruit pickers in Britain can earn up to £675 a week." That sounds pretty good, but the word can is putting in a real shift in that sentence.
What do people who aren’t deliberately trying to get people to accept jobs they don’t want have to say about the figures? "There are no official figures for average wage rates, but feedback from the industry suggests the average wage for fruit pickers typically sits at, or just above, the national living wage, with opportunities to earn more dependent on hours worked and productivity bonuses," reports The Grocer. So, in other words, they tend to pay the obligatory minimum wage you can legally pay, possibly with some bonuses if you work yourself half to death.
"The pay, including productivity bonus, is substantially more than working in the hospitality industry," says Nick Marston, BSF chairman, which is like saying getting kicked in the shin is quite a lot better than getting stabbed in the eye.
And then there’s the fact that the work is seasonal and temporary. If you do accept it, you’ll be back in a couple of months having to fill out forms for benefits that you haven’t been able to claim in the meantime.
It’s weird – if the government believes in the free market, you might think they would expect farmers to pay more for work that nobody wants to do. Instead, they’re helping crappy employers with their PR. So much for the idea that it's migrant workers who bring down wages, when the government is clearly happy to lend a hand keeping them low.