The comments follow a review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published this week. The review advised several occupations should be added to the Government’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL), including food technologists, butchers and maintenance engineers, which the FDF welcomed.
However, calls were made for the Government to make access to foreign workers more affordable to all businesses – including small and medium-sized enterprises.
Key worker shortage
The FDF also advised future reviews to consider shortages in regulated qualifications framework level 2 ‘key worker’ roles, which in the food sector would include forklift drivers and food and drink processing operatives.
Mark Harrison, policy manager for employment and access to labour at the FDF, urged the Government to remove or reduce the Immigration Skills Charge for shortage roles.
“Instead of levying a blanket charge against employers with no clear link to any skills programme, the Government should work with affected sectors to support domestic skills development in areas identified as being in shortage by the MAC,” said Harrison.
“We would also urge the Government to support our industry’s efforts to further upskill our workforce, including broadening the apprenticeship levy into a wider training levy.”
Access to labour
A number of sectors in the UK food and drink industry have stressed access to foreign labour as vital to their success post-Brexit.
In July, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) warned labour shortages would stunt meat industry growth and create food security. To compensate for a local talent shortage, the BMPA urged the Government to guarantee an EU labour supply to maintain continuity, a supply the industry has enjoyed for the past 15 years.
Meanwhile, the EU remains ‘intransigent’ on issues such as fisheries. It was using the granting of third country status for animal products as a negotiating tactic, George Eustice, secretary of state for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) told a Parliamentary committee.
FDF: why food firms should be on SOL list
- a lack of a suitably skilled workforce in the UK;
- an unwillingness of the UK workforce to consider certain roles due to: physical demands; unsocial hours; an unwillingness to relocate; or seasonality of these roles;
- training alone is not a viable solution due to the time it takes and lack of long-term certainty.