Page 25 - Farm labour in the UK
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Professor Piotrowicz, in his response to a call for evidence, pointed out that the UK’s points-based immigration policy statement refers only once to protecting individuals from exploitation (Defra 2020e). An assessment of the UK seasonal worker pilot (Robinson 2021) states that even those entering under the current permit system are more vulnerable than they would have been under Freedom of Movement in the EU. This is due to permit time-limits restricting their ability to challenge exploitative conditions, visas being tied to one employer, and people illegally exceeding their allotted 6 months becoming prey to traffickers. The report highlights a number of forced labour indicators, such as degrading living conditions, debt at recruitment, absence of contracts, and limited hours and piece rates, and provides a vital insight into where the scheme requires further monitoring and development.
Permanent year-round roles underpinned by the seasonal workforce might face the threat of unemployment, exacerbating rural unemployment issues. In the case of one business, almost 2,000 permanent staff would be affected. Outside of all the direct primary production roles, it is likely that many thousands of jobs dependent upon domestic food production such as food processing, manufacturing, and distribution, would be impacted.
. Labour shortages are already having a negative impact on the mental health of farm owner/operators. Some farm business owners report feeling more exposed to fluctuations and changes in the economy of the industry, increasing the vulnerability of their business.
“Managing directors of big businesses are seriously worried/stressed. I don't want to say they have all got major problems, but I would call it stress. On the back of not knowing whether they are going to have sufficient numbers of people to harvest the crops” (Farmer 3)
Many business owners reliant upon labour cannot be assured that the pool of labour with the necessary
skills will be available to them at the times of year when they need them most. This is likely to create or exacerbate mental health issues in the form of stress, anxiety or depression for some employers. This applies to any sector where farm labour is crucial, not just the larger horticultural units.
“I’ve lost count of the number of occasions where we’ve had meetings where someone has said I’m sorry I can’t make it because my worker has just left or I’ve got an issue with a worker or, you know, I haven’t got people in today or whatever. So, yeah, labour is always a big issue that plays on people’s minds” (Farming rep 3)
There will be a need to train more workers, which comes at a cost. Many employers have relied upon a certain percentage of ‘returners’ each year, with one farmer stating that ten years ago up to 70% of staff were returners. This had declined to approximately 40% post-Brexit, according to that individual, but even lower for others (Pelham 2020). The result is that more time needs to be put into training new workers and productivity is likely to be lower until sufficient skill is developed. Training new workers requires numerous resources, such as money and time, which many farmers, especially those on smaller holdings, cannot afford to give. Fortunately, some initiatives are available to help with such an issue. For example, the new youth employment scheme introduced in 2020, known as Kickstart, will encourage the uptake of apprenticeships in farming, as well as the new Trailblazer Apprentice scheme (see section 3.5.1).
In the case of fewer migrant workers, there will be a need to employ more people from the domestic labour force. While this is currently part of the government and industry strategy to make up the
Farm labour in the UK | Accessing the workforce the industry needs

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