The Farming Social Hub - a voice for the farming community

Call for action as labour shortage hits crisis point

The food and farming sector has joined forces with other industries to call for an emergency 12-month Covid Recovery Visa to fill the thousands of vacancies in industries critical to the food chain, including harvest workers, food production staff and HGV drivers.

As shelves empty in supermarkets and crops are left standing in fields, a cross sector group has called on ministers to introduce the visa to fill the estimated 500,000 vacancies across the food and drink sector.

While the pinch is being felt at the consumer end of the food chain, the arable and livestock farmers at the start of the chain are also feeling the pressure. There is a backlog of pigs on farms, fruit and vegetable growers are struggling to find people to pick and pack the produce and arable farmers are faced with the prospect of perishable crops being left on farm because of a lack of drivers to move them.

The labour shortage has been caused by a combination of factors, predominantly the post-Brexit exodus of migrant workers back to Eastern Europe and isolation and illness caused by the Covid pandemic. A suggestion by the Home Office that the gaps can be filled by employing British workers has been met with scepticism by the farming and food production community as numerous schemes and higher wages have failed to fill the gaps using a domestic workforce. As one farmer point out, the workforce is needed now and it takes 12-24 months to train people for these specialist or skilled roles.

There have also been suggestions of asking prisoners and school leaders to fill some of the gaps in food production, particularly at meat processing plants where the labour shortage is acute.

The cross industry report was spearheaded by the National Famers’ Union and signed by a dozen industry groups. It was sent to government ministers to show how the pandemic and the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy are affecting the recruitment of key workers.

There is also a call on the government to commit to a permanent seasonal worker scheme for UK fruit and vegetable pickers, and to launch an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.

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