Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Greenhouse Jobs

The letters page in 'Your Thanet' this week, once again illustrates how European employment laws and local planning become mixed together in indignant criticism of Thanet District Council.

Thanet Earth is a fine example of this. The initial planning application was passed with the best possible intentions by councillors. Why? First and most important of all was the prospect of badly needed jobs, some 500, or more anticipated when the greenhouses reach full capacity. Second and less important was placing Thanet on the map. It has a microclimate which makes it attractive in a country which needs to grow more food and new businesses and new jobs invariably go hand in hand.

I read today that two thirds of all new British jobs in the last year went to workers from abroad. Whether that's accurate or not I don't know but in Thanet, an area of high deprivation and unemployment, encouraging business and employment is a priority on all sides of the political divide. However, local people have both to apply and compete for work with others from the European Union and there's absolutely nothing that can be done to ring-fence jobs. What we do hear from employers in Thanet as much as councils anywhere else, is that because of our benefits system, local people aren't prepared to take the low-paid, physically tiring and often repetitive contract work that goes with working on the land but Eastern Europeans will.

So what's the answer? We can't close the border and in fairness, if the council didn't try and encourage employers to come to the island, the criticism would be even harsher. Intel and Microsoft aren't likely to set up factories here because they can get better tax-breaks and a cheaper, more skilled and educated workforce elsewhere, so don't be too harsh on your local councillors when they approve planning applications on the back of potential jobs, because they often see a much bigger picture and like me, want the very best opportunities for the people of Thanet.


Michael Child said...

Simon I think the main problem here is that the council allowed prime farmland to be bulldozed away to make way for what is essentially a factory operation and one that could have taken place on a disused industrial site.

The other major consideration here is the water supply issue, I think the council were duped into thinking that as the water collected from the roofs of Thanet Earth as water would be conserved, the problem here though is that the water that previously soaked into the ground wasn’t wasted but was used to replenish our natural underground reservoir.

If Thanet Earth had been built say on the old power station site then there would have been no major problem.

What the council needs to do is work with the environment agency to produce a plan for sustainable usage of what is left of our farmland and to cast a jaundiced eye on companies making great promises for jobs in exchange for desecrating it.

In terms of the local economy and foreign workers go, the problem is much more about where they spend their money than what nationality they are, by this I mean an Eastern European worker living in Thanet and spending their wages here is more beneficial to the local economy than someone working in Thanet but living in Canterbury and spending their wages there.

DrM. said...

The Environment Agency told us in a briefing that the "prime" farmland story was a myth offered up the protest groups. Apparently we have very thin chalky topsoil and as you will know, we have a problem with farm nitrates seepage into the aquifer.

Anonymous said...

The land allocated to Thanet Earth was used to grow cauliflowers, which were constantly being disposed of because the 'Market' did not want them... At least now the area is producing something that is being purchased. (and is also generating electricity). Its about time we started looking to the future and stopped dwelling in the past. (like when hosts of folk came for a miserable week in Thanet for their holidays).

Michael Child said...

Funny really how views can differ Simon, I always assumed that Kent’s chalkland to be the basis of the Garden of England, perhaps I view things too much from the book perspective. From Lewis writing in 1723 about Thanet’s particularly fertile soil up to Hardcastle’s “Farming Isle” published in 2008 I appear to have a library saying that Thanet one of the most fertile parts of England.

I suppose if you have a view of Thanet as an arid isle it you would see things differently, however if you discuss what was done at Thanet Earth with the local farmers you will find them using words like desecration.

DrM. said...

That said Mchael, I fear we will need a great many more industrial farming scale Thanet Earth's to feed our country in the next 20 years!

Michael Child said...

Certainly going to be a problem I think, did you read Laura Sandys writing in the Ecologist this week? See if you missed it.

I don’t somehow think it will be peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes that we are held to ransom with, as they always seem to be over supplied. I think it is much more likely to be food staples like grain and potatoes.

But my point is really that intensive hydroponic greenhouse factory farming where the ground is concreted over should happen primarily on sites that have already been made unsuitable for food production and not prime farmland.

tony flaig bignews said...

Nice to see you perpetuate the slur "local people aren't prepared to take the low-paid, physically tiring and often repetitive contract work ...but Eastern Europeans will"

Have you actually personally researched this cliché it may well be a little more complicated than the standard Daily Mail view.

I always find such blanket statements made about your fellow nationals (local people)are simplistic, offensive and corrosive to the society you probably think you belong.

DrM. said...

The first person to use personal comments loses the argument!

Strangely enough and it may surprise you, I'm in a position to be concerned about such matters and have the opportunity of making inquiries that frequently receive an intelligent response.

The issues surrounding EU labour are very broad and are felt acutely in rural areas; the east of England being particularly impacted and you may have seen the relatively recent TV programme about Cambridgeshire.

In a nutshell, many eastern Europeans are brought-up in a rural environment and are quite used to the back breaking, tedious work that goes with it.

I recall one summer when I was 17 and still a school, having a job harvesting potatoes in the field where the pumping station stands on the Manston road. I didn't last a week and have the deepest admiration for the hard working women who put me to shame at the time!

The simple issue at Thanet Earth is that jobs exist for those capable of doing the work and maintaining the exacting standards demanded by the supermarkets.

I for one would be absolutely delighted if the workforce was dominated by local people but it clearly isn't and I'm seeking objective and practical remedies as opposed to cheap, Ill informed verbal abuse which does nothing for your argument!

Anonymous said...

i completely agree with Michael Child, no thought was given to the eyesore this has caused, the loss of valuable arable land, which we can ill afford shall be greatly missed in the future, when all fuel runs out and we have to survive on our own produce.
There was plenty of land TDC could have usede tucked away, out of sight, somewhere it wouldn't create a milestone around our neck in the future. This pinacle will not increase the Tourism in the area either, it is enough to put anyone off.
Dr M
We also have aviation fuel contaminating the Aquafer.
If the Environmental Agency was making comments like that why was it behind closed doors?.
TDC should have made sure the 500 jobs were available to Thanet people, they were the ones that made all the arrangements. out of 500 people only 10 Thanet people secured jobs just 2% of the workforce. 50 jobs were given to people living around Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone that is 18% of the workforce, BUT, 440 jobs were given to the Polish people that is 80% of the workforce. Is this fair? But it doesn't stop there, not only did they get most of the jobs but also took a large amount of our housing, at least 300 flats or houses Is that fair?.
Why does Thanet people have to take the brunt and dregs from everyone. We are the people who have paid our taxes all our lives for a good future for our children, but now our children are not getting a look in, as far as jobs.
This neglect of our Isle and the treatment of our people, has got to stop.
We have to preserve every piece of land suitable for growing food, for our future use, no more concreting over or allowing any more projects to make even more pollution in this area, already the air quality is getting worse, we must concentrate on preserving our Isle and making it a fantastic tourism area, as it was up to the 90's, We need to clean it up, make the people pay for their filthy way of living and turn it around into a lovely place to live once again. We do not want any more ideas from TDC like we have had in the past eg China Gateway, the expansion of the airport, these will only cause pollution and dager to everyones health.

DrM. said...

8.41 I'm trying to find something in your remarks which is not I'll informed or simply untrue.

As an example, Thanet Earth now provides a significant proportion of the nations fresh vegetables which were previously imported from Holland where similar greenhouse units exist.

What really worries me is that you read half truths, gossip and downright rubbish elsewhere and believe it as 'Gospel' truth.

To quote Winston Churchill, 'A lie gets half way around the world before the truth can get it's pants on' and I'm sorry to say you've swallowed all the prejudiced opinion that you've read or heard.

To use another well worn expression, ' The truth can set you free' ... Give it a try!

Anonymous said...

I say give the jobs to anyone who does not come from Thanet, The local workshy do not deserve the jobs

Anonymous said...

Some of these comments smack of "little Englander" blatant racism...

Where I work the majority live outside of Thanet, should we have TDC force my employer to make these "outsiders" redundant and employ only people with a Thanet Postcode?

Tony, given that I must also have bought into the same cliche as Simon can you please set us both free and explain, given that working conditions/wages etc were the same whether you were English or Easter European that so few "local people" got jobs at Thanet Earth?

I'll answer it as I see it, a generalisation it may be but feedback from people who try and employ "local people" is that they don't want to work for low pay. I could write up many examples to highlight this but think I've already taken up enough of Simon's comment section already!

Anonymous said...

I once tried to help a chap, to whom I was loosely connected via a distant in law, get a job with a local builder friend. He rejected the offer as rubbish.

When I later queried what happened with my friend he told me the chap would only take the job if it was cash in hand and no tax or insurance deductions. sadly, you just can't help some folk.

tony flaig bignews said...

My insight into how businesses recruit manual labour comes from having done that sort of work and without referring to specific companies or locations I think my insight is more relevant than Simon's or indeed you anonymous commentator 6:26 pm, who buys into the cliche.

6:26 surely your negative view of fellow countrymen is in itself racist, since it relies on the stereotype of white english moron claiming benefit.

My own personal experience, getting a job on minimum wage, was that the company apparently offering work and despite a high profile recruitment campaign didn't actually comeback to me after I registered, I made about 10 calls before being offered work.

Speaking to the handful of UK citizens, it was apparent that they also had difficulty in getting work, the particular agency in question was of course staffed by east europeans, and little practices like not paying for hours worked and offering shifts starting at 6am by texting the previous night at 11pm, 7 hours notice? a device to exclude local workers I think since non locals seemed to know they'd be working in advance.

It was clear to me that at least at supervisor level that the agency was using discrimination against locals, I would have probably still been working for this company rather than commute 2 hours into London and then manual labour had it not favoured foreign nationals.

One particular company and agency breached both health and safety regulations as well as the working time directive, which might well be why they dont want locals who might be aware of such shortcomings.

I take people as I find them, in my industry you work with people of all sorts background, and people are judged not on race or nationality but whether they do the job, at the end of a shift its generally noted who contributed and who didn't.

I work with East europeans, africans, asians most of whom work hard as well as local people ie fellow countrymen who make extraordinary efforts to keep in work, long hours, living away from home in shabby doss houses rarely seeing family.

On the flipside of your comments there are of course many examples of employers paying poverty wages and expecting the tax payer to sub there staff although that said most companies I've worked for have been decent honest hard working people just like us locals whom some have contempt.

Anonymous said...

Obviously people from poorer countries are easier for employers to exploit as they have lower expectations and are unlikely to have union representation.
Also, someone who has come to this country who is single and lives in a bedsit is more able to take a low-paid job than someone with kids and a house.

Anonymous said...

As I said Tony I can only say what I see... and what I have seen is fresh from school who walk out of jobs because they aren't allowed to have their mobile on all day, don't come back because they can't understand that jeans and trainers aren't acceptable clothing for an office, labourers who think moving 50% less bricks than a Polish bloke is ok, or who after a days graft simply "can't be arsed to do that for £100 quid more than me dole" or "I don't get out of bed for less than x". All those are true Tony, and all from our indigenous population.

If you believe that the agency was deploying racist tactics to block UK nationals from being employed, or taking a cut of the wage then you should have reported them, to not do so you are just allowing such things to happen and perpetuating the thing, "no jobs for brits", to continue.

As someone still in their 30's I can tell you that the work ethic of the 50 year olds really doesn't have a place with the youth of today, well from my experiences it doesn't anyway.

And by all means label me a racist Tony, whatever makes you happy mate.

Anonymous said...

This train appears to have derailed in a big way.... the point of this whole subject is Thanet Earth !

I for one would like to congratulate the directors of Thanet Earth for what they have achieved in what is a relativelyt short space of time, I'm sure they will develop to even greater things over the coming years.

The fact that all of the jobs have gone else where is merely a reflection of the current workforce in Thanet. IF, and its a big IF, they wanted the jobs, they would have applied and been succesful, it makes sense for any employer to have local staff.
The truth is they just did not apply in any real numbers, so external and agency staff had to be sought to help the operation get established. As someone very close to the supply chain here, I have first hand experience of trying to employ "Thanet" locals, I must say it's like banging your head on a wall.
Currently i am interviewing approx 30-35 people per month and finding at best 1 or two suitable to employ.
The council, as defective and hopeless as they are, cannot begin to address the problems this scale.
Projects such as Thanet Earth should be applauded for trying to help turn this place around, we need more like them and fast, I hope that the China Gateway project gets full approval and starts as soon as possible, creating jobs (if wanted) and promoting prosperity.
So come on you guys look at the Much bigger picture here and please stop the whinging and whining..... Margate is dead on its feet, no art gallery is going to make a difference, but real high end industry WILL !!!!!..

DrM. said...

If I remember correctly they were mostly mature women in their 30s or later, quite short, tougher and more physically suited to the task than I was, a teenage wimp. I can't recall if they were local to Thanet or were from elsewhere working seasonally but they weren't from Europe!

I managed to get a job on the pedal boats on the beach after that, which was also a tough job of types as the day was measured by the tides and it could get very chilly at low tide. It was one hell of a good way of building one's muscles up though as they were made of wood in those days and frequently filled with water.

Anonymous said...


Back when you were 17 and only lasted a week harvesting potatoes, you say you had 'the deepest admiration for the hard working women who put me to shame at the time'.

I just wondered what part of Eastern Europe they were all from?

ascu75 aka Don said...

This whole discussioin makes me weep the guy over the road from me works in London, I have a good friend who lives in Maidstone who's in-law works at Pfizers and lives in Rochester, The friend in Maidstone works part of the week in the Midlands the rest in Essex. By your arguments none of these people should be working because of their postcodes. As for ethnicity Pfizer in American and employ all over the globe my mate in Maidstone Works for 2 johny foreigners by the same argument they should not be in business but back in their homeland. Thanet Earth is going to employ people suitable for the job and the addresss for those people is irelevant unless you are anti something which in this case seems to be everything Thanet

Anonymous said...

I was unemployed for 10 months up to recently and there was always a queue of the alleged work-shy at the Job Centre before 9 am waiting for the staff to arrive. To the people who talk about the work-shy please don't comment unless you have been unemployed as you will not know what you're talking about, you have to try it to understand. There are people who do not want to work, that is undeniable but a lot of people are willing to. My wife who earns £800.00 pcm plus benefits and credit card repayment insurance produced us an income of £1500.00 pcm. This was still very difficult for a family of 4 to live off. The car was garaged, I walked everywhere, I didn't eat any hot meals at times for several days so my children could. It would be mad for me to have taken a job that would then see my credit card insurance repayments stopped for a salary of less than £700.00 pcm. I'm now in employment again and earning 600 USD per DAY working for a US company. Perseverance pays, so does networking.

Anonymous said...

The majority of worker employed by Thanet earth are Polish or Eastern European. I believe this is because they don't have a voice. Who represents the workers?
Do they have trade union representatives?
Are they aware of the dangers of working in greenhouses filled with CO2 at three times the required levels?
Are they aware of the amblyseius mites added to the crop to feed the worker bees and wasps. A non indigenous creature under licence by DEFRA and bacillus thuringiensis
a main cause of occupational asthma found in studies in identical dutch greenhouses. The study also shows that women have been prone to spotaneous abortion and difficulty conceiving, have skin allergies and rashes due to the use of some pesticides.
Food for thought......