Samhain Harvest Spirit

by Christopher James Stone

Why can’t people be allowed to top up their meagre wages?

It’s that time of years again folks.

The clocks have gone back, it’s dark by five in the evening, and there’s a smell of decomposition in the air.

Meanwhile the mushrooms are sprouting, the veil between the worlds has lifted and there are spirits roaming amongst us.

Thursday is Halloween. That’s Samhain in the Celtic calendar. Friday is the Day of the Dead. It’s the time when we remember all those who have passed over into whatever lies beyond this life.

Whether you believe in spirits or not isn’t important. What we are remembering is our own mortality. By honouring the dead we are paying attention to the fact that we are alive, and that life is rare and precious.

One of the news stories this week was about the fact that there is fruit being left on the trees because Eastern Europeans aren’t picking the harvest due to Brexit uncertainty.

According to the Grocer magazine, there are 1,500 unfilled vacancies on British farms.

It’s not that many years ago that most seasonal farm work was done by British labour on a casual basis.

I used to do it. Most of the people I knew did it. It’s good work, cash in hand, with lots of benefits. Up bright and early, in the fresh air, it connects you to the land and to the season in a way no other job can.

Traditionally it was done by women for pin money. Or it was done by students, or people on the dole. You didn’t have to give your National Insurance number. It was piece-work, meaning the faster you worked the more you earned, but you could go at whatever rate you chose.

You were paid on a daily basis. If it rained you didn’t get paid. I was a single parent at the time, on benefits, so the money came in useful.

They started busing Eastern Europeans in sometime in the early 2000s at around the same time the government started demanding that employers took a record of National Insurance numbers.

I wrote an article in the Big Issue about it at the time. I interviewed a local farmer. He said, “the Eastern Europeans are better pickers. They pick more fruit, they work longer hours and – I have to admit – sometimes we pay them a little less.”

This was in 2003. There still were English workers doing it back then. Since then the Eastern Europeans have taken over and almost no one doing seasonal work is British any more.

This is because it’s no longer casual. You have to declare your income. If you are on benefits you will lose them and it may take months to reinstate them once the work is over.

This seems absurd to me. Why can’t people earn a little extra to top up their meagre income?

Corporations like Amazon and Google get away with billions in unpaid taxes.

As always it’s one law for the rich, and another for the rest of us.


From The Whitstable Gazette 31/10/19

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