Page 26 - Farm labour in the UK
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shortfall in labour, it comes at a cost. This is discussed further in section 3.6.
“Recruitment in future years is going to require the industry to do what it can effectively to use resident labour as much as is possible. The stats from this year, would suggest that that is going to be a challenge” (Labour expert 2)
It is extremely unlikely that the domestic workforce will ever be able to fulfil the entire workforce requirements of the agricultural industry (CLA 2019). Hard-to-fill vacancies are common across several sectors, many of which have been populated by migrants in recent years. The number of vacancies in the UK at the end of 2020 for all major employment sectors was estimated to be around 578,000. This figure does not include agriculture, forestry or fishing due to the size of the sectors (ONS 2021). The
“‘The next couple of years are going to be quite tough. We’ve built up a legacy of issues that we need to resolve. I think if we get around the issues properly and we get some proper focus on looking at how we can put agriculture centre stage in terms of opportunities for future employment, then the future does look bright” (Farming rep 3)
Interview findings and analysis of secondary data
reveal several important steps which can be taken at farm-level, local-level and national-level to improve the outcome of the current crisis.
seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November-September 2020, following six months of pandemic-related job losses, stood at 5%, equating to approximately 1,724,000 over-16 year olds classed as unemployed (ONS 2020b). At surface level, it appears that sufficient numbers of workers are available to fill any shortages in farm labour. However, some of the drivers outlined earlier will either deter domestic workers from the roles (geographical location, pay, hours, conditions) or will deter employers from employing British workers (lack of experience and expertise). This is more likely to be the case for seasonal workers than permanent, as only a proportion of unemployed workers will have the capacity to withstand the physical demands required by seasonal work. Opportunities to attract domestic workers to farming jobs do exist, but the execution of such a programme of recruitment will demand effort and will not be without its challenges.
  It is imperative that the seasonal worker scheme facilitating the movement and recruitment of migrant workers is fit for purpose for all parties. It should be frequently reviewed according to the needs of farm businesses so that numbers available guarantee an avoidance of labour shortfalls. As it stands, the seasonal worker pilot is principally aimed towards meeting labour demands during peak production periods. But businesses relying on seasonal labour and permanent labour need to be considered in both the short and long term. Equally as important, however, are the safeguards put in place for the migrant workers participating in the scheme. The pilot scheme requires thorough evaluation and consultation prior to the agreement of a final scheme, with the rights and safety of the employee holding paramount importance, and with worker and migrant organisations integrated into scheme evaluations to ensure a voice for the worker (FLEX 2019).

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