Brexit – Britain’s impending withdrawal from the European Union – could present the possibility of a farm labour programme of the kind that has sent Barbadians to pick fruits and vegetables in Canada and the US for the last half-century, the Government has confirmed.
Minister of Labour Colin Jordan and Barbadian-born British consultant, Cristopher Griffith, an agent with the programme have held talks to discuss the project.
With Brexit, it is anticipated that Europeans will no longer come as farmworkers, likely creating acute labour shortages in British agriculture, Griffith said. He added the UK is also seeking to “grow a lot more of what it eats”.
Explaining the potential areas of work, he said: “We are only talking at this moment of the edible sections, fruits and all the different things you grow to eat, but you have to remember that this is linked very much to the horticultural sector and animal husbandry.”
The agent added that Barbados having a farm labour programme in place for 50 years was pivotal to persuading the British to consider Barbados as a source of farmworkers. He also noted that the programme recognized the island had “an infrastructure, a background and understanding which they could use as a springboard”.
Jordan, while welcoming the interest shown in Barbadians, told Griffith: “Our mandate as a ministry and particularly at the level of the Barbados Employment and Career Counselling Service (BECCS) is to make Barbadians employable and to find work for Bajans.
“Barbados is not at this point able to provide work for all of its residents. Even if this were possible, there is still a lot of value, in Government’s mind, in allowing people to get experience outside of Barbados.
“We believe we need a bigger population if we are to grow; we are envisioning that we would need more people than we have now; that would mean we would need to provide jobs for those people.”
Jordan contended that there was still merit in placing people overseas, adding they would acquire skills and different perspectives which they could bring to bear on what is happening locally.
The Labour Minister, who was accompanied by Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary Marva Howell and BECCS officers, further acknowledged that Barbadians going to Britain would gain skills and benefits from “exporting their skills and earning in a tradeable currency, whether euros, pounds or Canadian dollars”.
Jordan declared: “A small open economy has to be an export-driven economy because we don’t have the market.
“The Americans can look inwards and the Chinese can, but we can’t.
“Barbadians working overseas must of necessity bring back some of what they earn to Barbados; they are going to have bills here to pay, they will bring back some, however little. That’s how I see the benefits.”