Page 24 - Farm labour in the UK
P. 24

Such narratives were not limited to large horticultural units, although they were referred to many times. But other sectors of the farming industry are considered to be vulnerable to the same outcome.
“This is going to be fatal to a lot of people in the dairy industry” (Farmer 4)
. Businesses will choose to relocate to countries where access to labour is not a problem. Where businesses have the capacity, many are already considering moving part or all of their enterprise outside of the U.K.
“Businesses that don’t have sufficient labour are going to cease operations, reduce operations [or] look to move overseas” (Labour expert 2)
This kind of decision will be made largely based on the type of crop and proportion of labour required. According to one employer, the labour costs of producing lettuce is half that of that required to produce spring onions.
“Spring onions are difficult to mechanise because they are too soft. So the managing director of that business has already made plans to grow a summer production in [a country in Africa] where he has got the labour” (Farmer 3)
The same employer said that they were also considering moving part of their production process.
“We will have to go to where the people are” (Farmer 3)
One negative implication of such drastic transitions includes the overall impact upon the food security of the country if there is an increased reliance upon imports. Another repercussion of moving food production to other countries is that worker rights in those countries might be less stringent than those currently in place in the UK, putting a greater number of workers at risk of exploitation and affecting the UK consumers’ information regarding food sovereignty and transparency of production (Nye 2017a).
There might be an increase in slavery and worker exploitation within the UK. A number of organisations, councils, and authorities exist whose
purpose is to ensure that vulnerable and exploited workers are protected. These include the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JWCI).
Among other things, these bodies work hard to prevent worker exploitation. This is achieved through a variety of methods, such as identifying victims, licensing businesses, promoting responsible practices, introducing certification programmes, challenging laws and practices affecting worker rights, and providing support to employers and/or workers. Prior to the Morecombe Bay tragedy in 2004, where 23 people died picking cockles illegally, it is estimated that at least 50,000 undocumented workers were employed on farms and in packhouses (Verdon 2017).Gangmasters, people who organise and oversee the supply of workers for casual roles, are now legally obliged to be licenced and the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) has the authority to inspect the operations of those holding licenses. However, licensing breaches and exploitation of workers is still common, particularly in the food processing sector (GLAA 2020).
Several interview respondents stated that there is a risk that some businesses might be driven to source workers illegally due to the new immigration policy, and if labour needs are not met. By working on a farm without legal status to do so, workers have no rights or support and therefore become vulnerable to exploitation.
“From next year EU workers can come into the UK to visit but they won’t be able to work so we’ll see a massive increase in illegal working, black market working, and exploitative situations because whereas this year those individuals could go and work in agriculture, next year they won’t be able to so that option is removed” (Labour expert 1)

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