New Europe working like a dream in Hull sprout factory

Martin Geissler

Former ITV News Correspondent

Most of the workforce at the farm near Hull are Eastern Europeans. Credit: ITV News

When you’re tucking into your turkey and trimmings this Christmas, please spare a thought for the poor souls who picked your sprouts.

They’re out there right through December, working all hours in all weathers harvesting huge mountains of a vegetable many of us don’t even like.

The sprout picking season used to provide a welcome festive bonus for people living in the villages around the farms. A few extra pounds in the pocket just when they needed it most. Not any more.

The vast majority of the work these days is done by temporary staff from Eastern Europe.

It’s precisely the kind of arrangement that gets UKIP & Co hot under the collar.

“Coming over here, stealing our jobs, pricing us out of the market”, we’ve heard it all before and - in this case at least - it’s absolute nonsense.

Many farmers will tell you they struggle to get enough staff. They pay pretty well (the ones I spoke to were offering well over the minimum wage, certainly) and they’d love to hire locally, keeping the money circulating in the nearby towns and villages.

But it seems these days British people just aren’t interested in that kind of work.

I spent a couple of days at Risby Park Farm near Hull. It’s a hubbub of activity this week, their busiest week of the year. But farmer John Clappison is relaxed, he knows his staff are on top of it all.

Martin Geissler with farmer John Clappison (right). Credit: ITV News

Arek Czapla is his star performer. He arrived from Poland in 2009 looking for a few weeks casual labour and he’s been here ever since. He’s earned a bit of money, learned a new language and a host of other skills besides.

He’s the foreman these days, but he rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck into virtually every job on the farm. A bright young man with formidable work ethic and a happy charm, he’d be an asset to any business.

Arek Czapla arrived from Poland in 2009 and is now a foreman on the farm. Credit: ITV News

“I don’t really miss Poland”, he told me, “if I wasn’t happy here I’d go back home, there’s nothing to stop me”.

His partner, Marzena, works at the farm too. She’s slightly less enamored with life in England but she’s far too polite to tell you straight.

“I do get frustrated”, she told me, in her charming Yorkshire/Krakow brogue “when people here suggest we’re taking their jobs. Even my English friends have said it. But it’s just not true. There are plenty jobs here, not just for Poles but for Russians, Lithuanians Romanians, whoever... and English too... but you guys just don’t want to do the work. Don’t ask me why”.

Marzena claims the English do not want to work on the farm. Credit: ITV News

Her boss backs her up. “We do get the occasional local youngster looking for work”, John Clappison tells me “but they never seem to last more than a couple of days. I don’t know whether we’re lazy as a race these days, or we’ve just gone a bit soft. They just can’t seem to hack it.”

He has a real fondness - and a genuine admiration - for his foreign workforce. They never let him down and never, ever complain. But he does have concerns for his industry’s future.

Earlier this year the Government scrapped a scheme which brought migrant workers to Britain for seasonal jobs on farms. Perhaps the plan was to free up space for British workers. If so, many in the agriculture industry fear it’s doomed to fail.

The Government scrapped a scheme which brought migrant workers to the UK for seasonal jobs. Credit: ITV News

“If there’s no-one to pick the fruit, there’s no point in growing it”, John tells me.

“The supermarkets can easily import it from abroad, so our sector will shrink rapidly and dramatically”, he says. “Its as serious as that”.

Like many farmers he believes that far from creating jobs, the plan will have the opposite effect. Ultimately it could do real damage to the rural economy.

Farmer John Clappison believes the Government's plan could hurt the industry. Credit: ITV News

At the end of another long day I drove into Hull to visit Arek and Marzena in their new home. They needed extra space when their daughter, Maja, was born last year.

They’d saved most of what they’d earned on the farm, so they worked a little harder, saved a little more and put down a deposit on an old council house near the Humber Bridge.

“Poland will always be home”, they tell me “but we’re happy here for now. We can work hard, earn money and save for a better future.”

It’s a simple plan, but a good one. Here, at least, the new Europe is working like a dream.