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Migrant labour: Four months’ hard work to earn £140

By Matt Jackson

A leaked government plan has proposed a crackdown on EU citizens doing low-skilled jobs after Brexit.

The National Farmers’ Union has claimed the “entire food supply chain” could be threatened.

But even now, life is tough for migrants. Matthew Jackson met a Portuguese man who has spent the summer picking fruit.


While politicians grapple with the thorny issue of immigration after Britain leaves the EU, the future is uncertain right now for Raul.

The 35-year-old Portuguese man spent this summer picking fruit across two farms in Canterbury and is now preparing for life sleeping rough in Canterbury.

With the grand total of £140 for his efforts, he has nowhere to turn to, and no route home.

Raul is hoping for more regular work so he can help out his fiancee at home

Raul is hoping for more regular work so he can help out his fiancee at home

Meeting inside Waitrose car park, Raul shows me a single carrier bag which contains what he brought with him from Ericeira, a small fishing village in the south of his homeland.

A blunt razor, some unopened sun cream, vitamin supplements and an antique-looking Swiss army knife.

“It’s all I have,” says Raul in his broken English.

The fruit picking work is a competitive business, Raul tells me, you work all week over the summer in return for accommodation and if you’re good enough, you stay on.

“It’s a little like an audition,” Raul explains, “you come in and work hard and if you do the job you can come back where you can earn a decent wage.”

The four-month audition pocketed Raul £140, as well as three meals a day, and a caravan to call home.

As part of a 15-strong group, comprising four or five different nationalities, Raul would spend nine hours a day picking an assortment of fruits.

Judged by how many containers they would fill, Raul would aim for 20 a day – hoping to impress his bosses in the search for more permanent work.

Raul’s work rate meant he was offered casual farm work from November until March next year.

Pondering what happens after this, Raul mulls over his next step.

The migrant worker's lot is a tough one. Picture stock image posed by model

The migrant worker's lot is a tough one. Picture: stock image posed by model

“Well, the best workers are needed for more than just the fruit season, people are needed to help prepare the farm.

“If I can continue doing well, I can do this, and then leave Canterbury one year from now.”

But what, I ask, will he be doing over the next two months to survive until November?

“I cannot, with the money I have, just go home and then come back here.

“There is no work where I live, I have a fiancée at home and I said I’ll come home when I’ve earned some money.

“I have no family, and no job at home, so I have to make this work.

“And I will.”

According to job website Indeed there are already 700 fruit picking jobs being advertised across the area for next year – a tenuous seasonal existence, to which Raul can testify without hesitation.

“If you’re not well, if you don’t pick up enough, if you don’t like the owners then you are gone.

“You have no support or rights, you’re just told to leave.”

No qualifications coupled with bad English and a criminal record for drink- driving in Portugal makes the prospect of work a remote one.

Instead, Raul must make the most of the streets, until November comes.

Wrapping up his sleeping bag, kindly donated by another rough sleeper, Raul is optimistic about his second week sleeping rough.

Life is set to get tougher for migrant workers after Brexit

Life is set to get tougher for migrant workers after Brexit

He says: “I’m used to not having much, the people out here have been very kind to me – and if I had anything I would share with them.”

Tomorrow morning will see Ralph make the two-mile trip to the house of a farmworker he met over the summer.

Raul will be given some coffee and toast, before heading back into the town.

There, he will meet up with an unnamed Polish man cast off from a farm in Littlebourne with no promise of future work.

They will look for food, before finding somewhere to sleep that night, while all the time avoiding unnecessary attention from the police.

Even as an EU national Raul mentions “deporting” or being “forced home” on numerous occasions.

I ask whether he is in trouble, whether he served his sentence for drink-driving, whether he has the legal documents required.

“Yes I am allowed to work here,” says Raul, who refuses to touch on the potential legal issues, simply saying: “I don’t need trouble,” with a hearty laugh.

“I don’t like the cold, that’s maybe the hardest bit to live with" - Ralph

There is of course no contract to speak of, Raul will simply turn up to work in November and hope the offer still remains.

Money hasn’t been discussed, nor living arrangements; work hours and what the work consists of – all remain a mystery.

“I don’t like the cold, that’s maybe the hardest bit to live with,” says Ralph as we move out from the car park – Ralph’s home for the past week – into the city centre.

As I wish him luck as he walks towards Old Dover Road, he asks whether he should upgrade his loose jumper for something thicker when autumn comes.

“If it’s like this I’ll be too cold in something light.”

For Raul and the estimated 1,000 fruit pickers in the district, the new season can’t come quickly enough.

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