To mark the first anniversary of the EU Referendum, Farmers Guardian has asked a number of key figures from the NFU to explain how things have changed for the industry over the past 12 months.
Brexit and international trade adviser Lucia Zitti continues our week-long mini-series with an in-depth look at the UK’s access to labour.
Immigration and the free movement of people within the EU have been key aspects of the Brexit debate, and the Government’s desire to adopt more effective systems to manage immigration will continue to be sensitive and high-profile as we approach Brexit.
The reality is the whole UK food supply chain is heavily reliant on non-UK seasonal and permanent labour. UK farmers need access to a competent and reliable workforce, which includes overseas workers where necessary, in order to run profitable businesses.
A large proportion of the workforce in agriculture and horticulture, whether seasonal or permanent, is made up of non-UK nationals.
Of the 476,000 people employed on agriculture holdings across the UK, Defra estimates 67,000 are seasonal, although we believe that this is a significant underestimate as industry research shows that the horticulture sector alone needs 80,000 seasonal workers a year to plant, pick, grade and pack over 9 million tonnes and 300 types of fruit, vegetable and flower crops in Britain.
We urgently need a solution to the farming sector’s labour needs to avoid losing a critical mass of workers – something which is already at risk of happening ahead of Brexit. It is vital that the Government addresses these concerns as a matter of priority.
With the long lead in times that farm businesses experience in recruiting staff, this is not an issue which can wait until we leave the EU.
Overseas workers looking to come to work in the UK in future need certainty and confidence now that they will be able to do so.
Our preference would be to have a suite of visa and/or work permit schemes which offer employers flexible solutions for recruiting migrant workers for low-skilled, seasonal work, as well as a stable immigration system catering for the economy’s permanent workforce requirements, with minimum burdens to process applications.
We also urge the Government to provide clarity, as a matter of priority, on the status EU nationals living and working in the UK, given the many permanent workers in the agri-food sector who are EU nationals.