Migration report is ‘missing the point’ about farm workers, say industry leaders

Workers harvesting iceberg lettuce in the Fens.

Workers harvesting iceberg lettuce in the Fens. - Credit: G's Group

A migration report's suggestion that there should be no explicit inward route for low-skilled labour except for seasonal workers is 'missing the point', claimed farming leaders.

The National Pig Association (NPA) said the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC's) conclusion that the supply of low-skilled workers after Brexit could be made up of existing EU workers, family labour and an expanded youth mobility scheme, rather than a dedicated employer scheme, ignored evidence which the NPA and others had put to it across the food and farming supply chain.

The NPA said the industry was reliant on permanent EU labour, often in so-called 'low-skilled' positions.

Chief executive Zoe Davies said: 'We are incredibly disappointed by this report as it completely misses the point about the role played by EU workers in the pig sector and right across agriculture and blatantly dismisses the valid concerns that we and others have raised.'

The report also calls for 'no preference' for EU nationals after the Brexit implementation period and urges the government to make it easier for high-skilled workers to settle in Britain.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said: 'Our initial thoughts are that the Migration Advisory Committee has recognised the need for a competent and reliable workforce to ensure that British food and farming remains a successful and thriving sector.

'But it runs the risk of wrongly pigeon-holing farming as a low productivity/low-wage industry, and overlooking the crucial role farmers and growers play in underpinning rural economies as well as our largest manufacturing sector.

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'The findings acknowledge farming's specific requirements and our own calls that an abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers able to work here post-Brexit would cause massive disruption to the entire food and farming supply chain. As a significant employer, agriculture requires a full range of skill sets across a broad spectrum of roles, both seasonal and permanent.

'Farm businesses already pay competitively for labour used on farm which is why we strongly rebut the recommendation that there should be a higher minimum wage for access to seasonal agricultural workers in the future.'