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EFRA reports on inquiry into labour shortages

27 April 2017

A group of MPs has raised concerns about the difficulties in recruiting and retaining labour in the agriculture and horticulture sectors.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published an interim report on the key findings of its inquiry into the difficulties of recruiting sufficient labour to harvest and process produce. Due to the calling of the General Election the Committee has not been able to prepare a detailed report on all the issues raised.

The Committee comments: “The weight of evidence from a range of agricultural and horticultural businesses indicates that their sectors are facing considerable difficulties in recruiting and retaining labour. We do not share the confidence of the Government that the sector does not have a problem: on the contrary, evidence submitted to this inquiry suggest the current problem is in danger of becoming a crisis if urgent measures are not taken to fill the gaps in labour supply.”

The Committee flagged the differences in perspective between the industry and Government in terms of statistics used, calling for a review of measuring the supply and demand for seasonal labour in the sector. 

With regard to a call made during the inquiry for a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, the Committee noted the Government’s assertion that a pilot scheme was not required currently and as long as the UK retains free movement of labour among the EU.  The Home Office has advised the Committee that a new scheme could be up and running in five or six months once the need for a scheme was identified.

FPC believes:

  • The UK Government must consider the need for temporary labour throughout the horticultural supply chain (harvesting, processing, packing and distribution) to fulfil needs across the supply chain, not just for seasonal harvesting.
  • The fresh produce industry has a significant number of long serving permanent staff who are non-UK EU nationals, many in positions of responsibility. It is vital that individuals are given security regarding their future position as soon as possible.
  • A flexible scheme is needed for the entire supply chain which provides access to labour across a range of skills levels, and which will provide business with confidence to invest in future growth in the UK.

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