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UK Future Immigration System - #FullStrength: We need a global workforce

6 February 2019

FPC joined forces with over 20 organisations to invite MPs to a Parliamentary drop-in session on the UK’s future immigration system. 

The event was part of a campaign #FullStrength: We need a global workforce, supported by organisations representing the UK food and drink industry, health care and nursing, construction and tech companies.

FPC members can support the campaign by using #FullStrength across social media.

The UK Government has published a White Paper ‘The UK’s future skills-based immigration system’. This paper sets out proposals for a future system for implementation after the UK has left the EU.

FPC is urging the UK Government to recognise the immense challenges currently in securing temporary and permanent workers across all skills levels. FPC’s message is:

A flexible immigration system is required for the entire supply chain which provides access to labour across a range of skills levels, and which will provide businesses with the confidence to invest in future growth in the UK.

Temporary labour is vital to maintain sufficient labour throughout the supply chain: to harvest, process, pack and distribute fresh produce; and to meet fluctuations in production and demand. We are concerned about the limitations of any proposed transitional, time-limited route for temporary short-term workers.

The industry is working on longer term initiatives to become less reliant on migrant workers wherever possible, for example, automation. However, this is at present extremely limited in practice and will take many years. We welcome the opportunity to work with the UK Government to seek further ways in supporting the UK fresh produce industry to reduce reliance on migrant workers, but we believe that this is long term and the industry will still need migrant workers.

Securing labour has become more difficult over the past twelve months. There are issues in filling both temporary and permanent positions, with companies reporting a drop in the calibre of candidates in meeting their skill set and experience.  Consequently companies have had to lower their standards to take on staff who require more training and support, with a subsequent impact on levels of productivity and costs. 

Many FPC members rely on non UK workers due to very low levels of unemployment in the UK. Unfilled vacancies are running week after week. The Movement to Work Programme encourages the long-term unemployed back into work. There is a lack of long-term unemployed people available, and many individuals are unable to work due to physical or dependency issues.  In short, there is not a sufficient pool of UK workers to fill the vacancies in the sector.

Seasonal peaks require significant uplifts of temporary labour.  Issues were experienced at Christmas 2018, and are anticipated in the cut flower sector to meet demand for Mother’s Day (31 March).  If companies cannot source sufficient labour they will not fill production volumes, resulting in potential damage to future business sustainability.

Around 80,000 seasonal workers are needed annually to harvest and process fresh produce. We welcome the introduction of the pilot Seasonal Workers Scheme for agricultural workers, however, the pilot’s scope is limited and proposed 2,500 non-EU workers in the scheme far too small.

Caption:  FPC members - Carol Ford of AC Goatham & Son and Stella Willcox of Greenyard Fresh

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