Gallery: Fenland farmer tells BBC documentary he'd be out of business if he employed locals

ASPARAGUS farmer Victor Aveling told a BBC documentary maker that if he had to recruit from the unemployed in the local area, I would not be in business . His comments came during tonight s controversial programme

Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY

ASPARAGUS farmer Victor Aveling told a BBC documentary maker that if he had to "recruit from the unemployed in the local area, I would not be in business".

His comments came during tonight's controversial programme by the BBC's former economics correspondent Evan Davis entitled The Day The Immigrants Left.

Mr Davis spent weeks trying to find a handful of people on the dole in Wisbech and put them temporarily into jobs normally filled by the town's estimated 3,000 migrant workers.


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Mr Aveling was among those employers taking part in the BBC reality-style TV programme which explored many of the myths - and some realities - about the reasons why jobs are being reserved for migrant workers.

Trevor Dear, operations director for Greenvale, where two thirds of his workforce packing potatoes now comes from eastern European countries, claimed local workers did not even apply for vacancies.

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"Where British workers are, I don't know but they're not applying for jobs," said Mr Dear, who at any one time is likely to have 200 migrant workers on his books.

Davis spent weeks trawling round the town and his production crew handed out scores of flyers to sign up volunteers to take part in his back to work experiment.

The programme featured a wide range of unemployed people, most of them unskilled and covering a wide range of areas. All claimed to want to return to work - or get a job for the first time- but some cried off at the last moment.

Excuses ranged from being sick, getting in late the night before their temporary job was due to start, or caring for sick family members but in the end Davis managed to film a handful starting work at Greenvale, an Indian restaurant, a building site and on Victor's farm near March.

Ashley, who started work at the Indian restaurant, floundered from day and by lunchtime on day two he was on the way out, beaten by his failure to understand the menu and forgetting to take plates to customers' tables.

"It's hard, it's definitely harder than people think," says the departing 'employee'.

At Victor's farm the three British workers fared equally badly, their piece work pay netting them from between �12 and �24 for TWO days work, resulting in Victor having to top up their wages to meet the minimum wage.

Migrant workers earned more than twice that amount in two days, and Victor talked of one foreign worker capable of earning nearly �180 a day picking half a ton of asparagus.

"I'm not in the business of subsidising workers who come onto the farm," said Victor.

Carpenter Dean on a building job fared better, earning praise from his British pub landlord boss and being invited to stay on a fortnight to finish the work he'd started.

Davis drew no particular conclusions from his programme, expect to reflect that if migrant workers weren't there companies would probably innovate and automate to replace them.

However he warned that whilst some British companies couldn't for now exist without foreign workers, we shouldn't be writing off prospects for British workers.

"It's not right to say they're coming here and taking all our jobs," says Davis. "But it is right to say they're having a lot of subtle effects, which aren't always appreciated, which aren't always thought about."

• Did the BBC film The Day The Immigrants Left paint a false picture of Fenland? You can vote in our web poll by clicking here.

YOUR COMMENTS

I CAN'T believe the one-sided attitude of this show.The unemployed must have been handpicked to prove the point of the programme maker.Why didn’t they employ people who are unemployed who want to work? I know many. Also, why didn’t they show the work-shy immigrants drunk in the park on a morning?Wisbech is a poorer town due to influx of these immigrants.NIGEL LOWE

MANY genuine people, who have lost their jobs during the recession, must be seething in anger at the way that programme was presented? To be blunt that programme made the British Worker out to be a moron.All the factories in this area were here long before the migrants. Padleys, Delmonte, Greencore to name a few.I have done more than my fair share of shifts on a potato pre-pack line for the likes of Packwell years ago.You get the distinct impression that if they all went home the Fens would stutter to a complete halt. Well I don’t think so.To me it was a poorly presented programme that took the p*** out of the decent people of Wisbech, many of those unemployed who would have returned a good day’s work for a poor day’s pay.Shame on the BBC.DAVID PATRICK

YOUR comments about the programme seem as biased as you infer the programme was.The potato workers, one of which couldn't even be bothered to turn up on the first day (the other two turned up late), eventually got to grips with the job, applied for work and were not offered anything.Has the employer taken on other workers since that date, and if so did those people turn up on time?The builder was offered work but an employer can only offer jobs when he has enough work to keep them employed. It is, of course, normal practice in the building trade to use self-employed labour.The young lad in the Indian restaurant held out some hope, but the others were a bad joke and gave me the impression that they were quite content to carry on taking benefits.SAM TURNER

I WATCHED with interest and was not amazed to find that the Wisbech “great unemployed” had no interest in actually working for a living.Perhaps for a follow-on programme you could check into the level of benefits these people receive compared to the wage being offered by the potential employers.Having lived in the town all my life, I am aware of the lack of interest in unemployed people within the town to work compared to the level of available benefits; thus giving no incentive for people to acquire low paid employment.A typical married man with “2.4 children”; after the initial back to work incentive by the government, will find he is considerably worse off than when he was unemployed.COLIN S PHOENIXA Wisbech English worker

NOT for the first time have clever dick big city slickers turned up on our doorsteps to humiliate us 'yokels'!If they don't think 9,000 immigrants in a total population of c20,000 have had an adverse effect then they must be blind (or Socialists).Victor Aveling, that well-known local Tory grandee, did little to support local workers.It's not that many years ago that the agricultural fields around Fenland were populated by hard working locals harvesting potatoes and carrots etc.The people are still here, capable of doing hard work, but have been mechanised out of a job.The only reason he's using manual labour is because asparagus can't be picked mechanically.I'm not sure which researcher selected the locals to be used in the experiment but I had to switch on subtitles because many of them were difficult to understand and I don't mean the East Europeans!RICHARD STIMSON

I WATCHED the programme and thought that the format was flawed to some extent but overall provided a good insight into the present state of affairs.Seasonal work all over the world is done by immigrants as pointed out by your asparagus grower.Not being able to come on and off the dole to take up this kind of employment needs s change of the regulations which should be attended to.Also expecting a young man to start as a waiter in an Indian Restaurant was a non-starter and bound to fail. Waiting at table properly is a skilled job and even if this young chap had been serving fish and chips he would have struggled.However, what came over from most of the participants was their poor attitude to doing work which they regarded as beneath them.Until that changes, we will continue to have permanent unemployed willing to continue raking in enough benefits to keep their chosen life style going.DAVID WILTSHIREHigh WycombeBuckinghamshire

ONCE again smoking, overweight British workers who arrive late for the first day of work with an alternative agenda are shown for what they are!I was sitting there willing for at least one person to arrive on time and show some initiative, sadly disappointed.JMB

PEOPLE of the Fens in the past were never lazy or louts as depicted in the documentary, it's the society we live in that's created these creatures.Typically coming from the fens meant hard working outdoor people who worked and farmed the fens with pride.Sadly that's left us with people as depicted in the documentary who live on benefits etc.Let’s see a follow-up programme that shows just how much the benefit seekers get in handouts per week. Judging by the size of some they definitely do not go without food!Also, many who employ the immigrants reap huge rewards by charging for caravan accommodation and travel fees on a daily basis. Obviously, the locals would not pay this.PAUL MCMILLANWisbech

• Did you watch the documentary? What are your views on it? Have your say and email your comments by clicking here.

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