The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee has raised concerns about the British food supply chain’s ability to secure sufficient labour for summer 2021 under the Government’s new immigration policy.
The Committee also challenged the Government’s last-minute approach to finalising the details of the recruitment scheme for overseas seasonal workers.
National Farmers Union Scotland
National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) policy manager David Michie said: “We welcome many of the statements in the Committee report. These are concerns that we have raised in correspondence with Government in recent months.
“Our members have been on the sharp end of the delays in the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme, which have caused unnecessary anxiety about getting fruit picked and paid for, rather than it being left to rot in the field.
“The announcement of the full list of operators for the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme just weeks before the season starts to peak was unacceptable. But beyond this delay, there is plenty of scope for further improvement in the scheme.”
High visa cost
One of the biggest concerns was the very high visa cost of the scheme relative to the previous SAWS [Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme], said Michie.
“This cost is high for both the worker and the grower, affecting the morale of the people picking the fruit and the bottom line of the businesses growing it,” he added.
“NFUS wants this red tape and high cost to be looked at as the Home Office learns lessons from this pilot scheme.”
Impact of policy
In its report, the EFRA Committee called on the Government to closely monitor the impact of its new immigration policy on the supply of such skilled workers.
Despite Government assurance of 'diligent' work to ensure the supply of such workers, the Committee noted recent evidence of a capacity shortage of Official Veterinarians in abattoirs. More than 90% of key workers in these areas were European Economic Area qualified, it claimed.
Although registration standards had been temporarily lowered as a short-term solution, the Committee stated that the Government had not said how it intended to fill these jobs in the long term.
Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Select Committee, criticised the unnecessary uncertainty create by the Government, which could prove costly for producers.
Labour still needed
“Despite last year’s ‘Pick for Britain’ pilot scheme, our report made it clear that overseas labour is still very much needed, and the Government’s efforts to recruit more domestic labour cannot hope to be sufficient for this summer’s harvest,” said Parish.
“Before Christmas, we warned the Government of the huge consequences of keeping plans for seasonal labour vague until the very last minute.
“There can be no excuse for further hold-ups- the Home Office need to start listening to the agricultural sector now to minimise the impact on British farmers.”