Page 54 - Farm labour in the UK
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Australia – The Australian government introduced a Harvest Trail relocation assistance programme which offered citizens up to $6,000 to move to a different location to work on farms. At the end of 2020, this initiative managed to recruit 453 in one month. Some businesses have also reportedly increased wages to attract local workers.
Russia – The Russian government is aiming to simplify its entry requirements for migrant workers to help industries suffering from shortages, including farming.
Ireland – Facing drastic labour shortages across its workforce, Ireland, in 2019, chose to increase permits to EU citizens.
“I think there will be more mechanisation and so it will be different skills we need. I don’t think we will ever not need a skilled workforce but it will be different” (Labour expert 3)
A new professional body, The Institute for
Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH), has been set-up to drive forward skills, standards, and career routes in agriculture, with the backing and support of the AHDB and the NFU. Such recognition of the labour force crisis in the agricultural industry is a significant one, as the future of some farms in the UK in the short-term will depend, to some extent, on the availability of labour. Automation to replace human roles will not be available immediately for many sectors, nor accessible to all who need it due to cost. This is the case not only for horticultural units but for all sectors reliant upon external labour. The political decision to reduce net migration will have a significant impact across society but it is vital that farm labour requirements are reviewed frequently. The definitions of, and value placed upon, ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ workers need to be revisited and the points-based system adjusted accordingly to prevent the farming industry from being disadvantaged by the new immigration policy. In the meantime, efforts to recruit from the domestic labour force need to be rapid, systematic and realistic. Seasonal work and
permanent roles in farming differ markedly therefore recruitment measures need to be targeted accordingly.
Seasonal work
It is extremely unlikely that the UK domestic labour market will ever be able to fully fill those positions normally filled by migrant workers. The economy has changed significantly but it has never really succeeded without the assistance of non-British workers (Nye 2016).
Seasonal worker recruitment cannot rely upon a national conscience of ‘working to save the nation’ as it has been shown that this is not an effective motivator for productivity. Nor can it be assumed that the rise in unemployment resulting from the COVID- 19 pandemic will automatically create interest in seasonal worker roles. The squeezing of price margins by supermarkets and a consumer base accustomed to cheap prices currently prevent worker pay from going above a certain level. The combination of low pay and physically challenging and repetitive work is not an attractive option, nor are the conditions currently associated with the work. Farms will need to become more competitive, flexible and attractive places to work in order to drive recruitment. This applies to both domestic and migrant workers.
At the same time it is not useful to classify all Brits as lazy. Many employers had positive experiences with some of their British workers, and attaching the label of lazy not only alienates potential workers but also fails to present the bigger picture which is that, structurally, the current offer is not acceptable to the British worker.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the living conditions of workers on many seasonal units, exposing their vulnerability to contagion, and

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