Very long hours and intense workloads driven by 24/7 demands from retailers are putting British people off taking jobs in the farming sector, according to leading charity Sustain.
The group, which represents almost 100 food and farming organisations, made the suggestion in its response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee’s re-opened inquiry into the agricultural labour market.
The submission also highlighted low wages; a lack of progression and development; isolation; poor housing; a failure to provide holiday pay; inadequate provision for sickness and retirement and a weak health and safety record as issues which made the industry unattractive to domestic workers.
Ministers were criticised for ‘neglecting’ these problems and focusing all their attention on automisation and agri-tech.
“The demands now required are incompatible with family life for the UK workers who historically used to undertake much of this work”, Sustain’s response to the inquiry read.
“In one instance, a couple from Lincolnshire who used to undertake seasonal, horticultural work at a time when it could be fitted around school timetables and holidays, and other family life demands, said they could no longer do this work because the hours being required in response to 24/7 demands from retailers no longer offered any flexibility.”
The group has called on the Government to invest in marketing and ‘better food production’ which creates rewarding employment, rather than just promoting agri-technology and encouraging trade patterns which tend to import high-labour products and export low labour products.
It has also suggested farmers and growers should have to provide workers with decent pay and conditions in order to take advantage of any future support scheme and demanded the reinstatement of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), pointing out 63 per cent of the responses to the consultation to abolish it did not want to see it closed down.
“When the Government removed the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in England in 2013, they removed a fair and effective means by which farmers and land managers could agree annual wages, with grades and additional issues such as overtime, housing and sick pay”, the group said.
“The removal of the burden of negotiation allowed farmers more time to do other work and resulted in less conflict. Farmers now have to individually enter into negotiation with employees whom they have to work beside day-to-day, and this uneven employment relationship is worsened by isolation.”
It is estimated a third of the global population work in agriculture - making it the single largest employer in the world.
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