With or without Covid, removing 1.3 million EU workers – by making them feel insecure and unwelcome, or by making them illegal – was bound to disrupt the job market.
Unsurprisingly, the impact is being felt most in the industries that have become most reliant on East European labour over the last 20 years: food manufacturing, hospitality, care, transport, and farming. With so many vacancies, wages are rising fast. If there is a plan behind this, I must have missed it.
Don’t call me a ‘remoaner’. Given that it is virtually impossible to live with health and dignity on minimum wage, I wholeheartedly welcome the wage increases as long overdue – and not yet enough.
As of this month, Riverford will be a Real Living Wage employer, meaning we pay a minimum of £9.50 per hour. Adding our last year’s profit share, divided equally between all co-owners, would bring that up to about £11. (For comparison, the government’s living wage is £8.91.) Given how much rents have risen, especially in Devon, it is questionable how real even this is as a ‘living wage’; surely any remnant of a social contract is broken when hard-working people are driven from their homes to make way for Airbnbs.
The implications of the current crisis go well beyond rising wages. It is part of a wider pattern of instability that we have all experienced over the past five years. Like many others, I am tired; tired of relentlessly adapting to change; tired of conflict, and of the hopeless leadership that inflames it. Some of this instability was unavoidable, but some was utterly predictable, and could have been avoided with better planning, leadership, and policy frameworks.
Good businesses (ones which last, and which do or make something of value) need stability: to build strong relationships, to improve in small, determined steps, and to have the confidence to plan and invest for the long term.
Entrepreneurial leaps of genius, seizing sudden opportunities and striking great deals, may help to sell dodgy face masks – but rarely contribute to the stable, long-standing businesses that sustain our economy and maintain social cohesion.
My biggest worry is that we will be paying the price for this sustained instability for decades, through reduced investments not just in business and quality employment, but also in, for example, maintaining schools and hospitals, training staff, or the urgent challenge of decarbonising our National Grid to address the climate crisis.
To view current vacancies at Riverford, click here.