A higher rate of no-shows and early leavers is boosting concern about the ability to pick and pack crop.
This was according to NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board chairwoman Ali Capper, who told NFU Council this week that her team was scaling up its asks on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) to operate a full scheme from 2021 for up to 70,000 non-UK workers.
To make this possible and easier for the industry to adapt, she said, the Government must also boost the pilot scheme to 30,000 workers by next year.
“It seems to us totally bonkers to go from a pilot of 2,500 workers and expect that pilot to be scaled up by the beginning of 2021 without a bit of a move-up in between,” she said.
“That needs to be rolled out to a minimum of 10 operators and we would like to see a mix of labour providers and farm businesses allowed to recruit these non-EU workers.
“If we do not start to scale this scheme up, there is no way we are going to be able to cope with the new immigration system.”
On the future immigration policy, Ms Capper said the NFU would oppose the proposal for any sector for the 12 months on, 12 months off, instead asking for a minimum of three-years for lower-skilled workers and to enable an ‘in-country switch’ to skilled roles, allowing workers to work their way up.
She also said the salary threshold should be reduced in line to match the reduction in qualification threshold to RQF3, an A-Level equivalent.