Agriculture and food face immigration labour hit

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

MPs listened to concerns about the proposals for immigration
MPs listened to concerns about the proposals for immigration

Related tags: coronavirus

The Government’s proposed immigration policy is “simply not fit for the future of agriculture”, Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), has told MPs.

Speaking during a session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee on Labour in the Food Supply Chain,​ Bradshaw said the policy could see produce being wasted, as there was no labour to pick it, which could result in potential price hikes. 

“So then you have shortages on the shelves and you have price hikes,” ​he said. 

Bradshaw also raised concerns that the food processing sector would be impacted by the Government’s plans on immigration. 

 

Processing 

“We can’t forget processing, which is so important. If we are going to produce the produce in the first place, we have to be able to process and pack that,”​ he said.

He added that, even with high UK unemployment, it was “highly unlikely​” that the agricultural sector would be able to recruit enough staff. 

We understand there will be pressure on UK growers to recruit more from the UK workforce. I am being told by members that it is the migrant workforce that is critical to next year and beyond,” ​he said. 

David Camp, chief executive of the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), said: “At worst, businesses will not be able to continue. They won’t have the key staff they need​. 

“This puts our food resilience and our food sector at significant risk,”​ he added. 

 

Significant challenges

One major area of concern for ALP was the fact there would be no lower-skilled route for food processing, food packaging and food distribution, which would present “significant challenges”.

Camp called for additional sectors to be added to the temporary visas list, such as food processing and packaging.  

Meanwhile, Bradshaw noted that the Government immigration salary threshold of £25,600 was too high for the agricultural sector.  

And he called on the Government to “dramatically​” increase the seasonal worker scheme, make “big changes​” in the Youth Mobility Scheme to include Europe, and extend the shortage occupation list for permanent workers.  

One major concern, he added, was the lack of confidence seen in the agricultural sector. “A lot of them are seeing cost increases of up to 15% due to coronavirus,”​ he said.  

 “Their competitors across the water have often had bailout packages, particularly if you look at the Dutch economy.”

Related topics: Brexit

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