Farmers face costly delays in reruiting harvest workers this summer because the government is moving too slowly on seasonal labour rules, says a group of MPs.
Delays to the government’s new immigration policy may leave British food suppliers without enough workers for the coming harvest, says the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
The warning came as the committee expressed its disappointment at what it said was the government’s last-minute approach to finalising details of its scheme for recruiting overseas seasonal workers.
British producers were at the bottom of government’s priorities list, said the committee. Farmers were facing unnecessary and costly delays to pilot schemes allowing seasonal workers from overseas into the country.
The government announced the final two of four operators for its seasonal workers pilot on 5 May. The committee said this left a tight timeframe for operators to recruit labour from overseas and supply those staff to farms who needed them.
The group of MPs repeated its call for the seasonal worker pilot scheme to be broadened to include other food chain and agricultural sectors beyond the horticultural sector.
The committee said it was concerned about shortages of skilled workers, especially veterinarians inspectors working in abattoirs. More than 9 in 10 of these key workers come from the rest of Europe.
There was already a shortage of vets in abattoirs, said the committee. And it urged the government to closely monitor the impact of its new immigration policy on the supply of such skilled workers.
Committee chairman Neil Parish said: “Peak harvesting season [is] almost upon us and yet the government has only just appointed the final two operators for the seasonal workers pilot.
“British growers have been placed at the bottom of the Home Office’s priorities list. Unnecessary uncertainty could prove costly for producers.
“Despite last year’s Pick for Britain pilot scheme, our report made it clear that overseas labour is still very much needed. The government’s efforts to recruit more domestic labour cannot hope to be sufficient for this summer’s harvest.”
Reports of daffodils going unpicked this spring made clear the need for seasonal workers from overseas went well beyond just edible horticulture, said Mr Parish. The Home Office needed to start listening to minimse the impact on British farmers.
“Before Christmas, we warned the government of the huge consequences of keeping plans for seasonal labour vague until the very last minute. There can be no excuse for further hold-ups.”