Farm leaders from all sectors have slammed a new report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which set out a blueprint for post-Brexit immigration policy.
The report, commissioned by the Home Secretary in 2017 to inform Ministers as they draw up a new Immigration Bill, said there should be no sector-specific migration route for ‘low-skilled’ workers – a definition which covers agricultural employment and jobs in other areas of the food chain such as abattoirs.
It acknowledged some sectors would ‘lobby intensively’ against this proposal.
Seasonal workers were the only exception to this recommendation, but the report suggested employers should pay ‘a higher minimum wage in return for privileged access to labour’.
The document also claimed any failure to introduce a new seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme would ‘not be catastrophic for the economy as a whole’ because the horticultural sector is ‘small, low-wage and low-productivity’.
National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We are incredibly disappointed by this report as it completely misses the point about the role played by EU workers in the pig sector and right across agriculture.
“We will continue to be reliant on access to EU workers to carry out roles which in many cases are defined by the Government as ‘low-skilled’, but in reality are far from that.
“We are appalled at how flippantly our evidence had been ignored. Do we really want to export our food production capacity with such an uncertain future ahead of us?”
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick agreed, saying the union was ‘concerned’ by the report.
He said: “Saying employers need to improve pay and conditions to compete for workers is not straight forward – the problems of attracting and training enough suitable UK workers are long-standing and the work is simply not as appealing to many people.
“Any future immigration system must be based on a realistic expectation of the ability and availability of UK workers to fill the jobs currently carried out by non-UK migrant workers and it is frustrating that the evidence provided by NFU Scotland and others in the agriculture, food processing and road haulage industries in this regard has not been recognised in the report.”
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer, meanwhile, highlighted the wider rural economy’s dependence on migrant labour.
“Tourism and the agri-food industry require a constant supply of multi-skilled labour,” he said.
“Putting a stop to this pipeline will jeopardise the future viability of many rural businesses and encourage the moving of production offshore,” he said.