Recommendations made in the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report (January 28) still fall short on delivering for the UK’s food and farming sectors, industry leaders have warned.
The proposed move away from an annual wage threshold of £30,000 to £26,600 has been broadly welcomed but there is still too much emphasis on academic qualifications for sectors which rely on manual and technical skills.
CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “If the report’s recommendation to not support lower salary thresholds on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) - an official list of jobs for which there are not enough resident workers to fill vacancies - is accepted, it will be vital for Government to put forward recommendations on how to meet labour shortages from the domestic supply of workers.
“Many rural industries are facing labour shortages in low skilled and low paid sectors, threatening to damage businesses and limit economic growth. It is Government’s job to ensure rural businesses have access to the workers they need to operate.”
NFU Scotland parliamentary affairs manager, Clare Slipper said: “We continue to dispute the need for wage thresholds at all, as well as the assertion that they are needed to prevent undercutting in the labour market.
"There is no evidence of such bad practice happening in Scottish agriculture, which is regulated by the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board.
“Similarly, the MAC’s fixation on academic skills is problematic. Setting an arbitrary definition of ‘skills’ also fails to account for those that an employee will accrue whilst in a post such as operating machinery, or undertaking skilled husbandry of crops and animals.
“Indeed, in some sectors, specifically dairy, there is a concentrated effort to link these on-farm skills to professional qualifications, apprenticeships and diplomas.
"This good progress will be lost if the new immigration system effectively cuts off pathways for individuals filling these roles to work in Scotland in a permanent capacity."
The MAC is still advising the Government to retain a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) and NFUS said it will lobby the UK Government to ensure a ‘robust, fully-operational scheme’ is in place after the current pilot comes to an end in January 2021.
The target is for a SAWS scheme to offer permits to some 70,000 workers from outside the UK for up to nine months.
Meanwhile Scottish Government has responded to the MAC report by repeating its demands for a separate immigration system which would include bespoke work visas.