NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Chair, Ali Capper, reflects on NFU conference, and the lobbying needed for securing seasonal labour.
It was good to see many of you at another successful conference last week, and I hope that those of you who were not able to attend were able to tune in to the sessions online. As always we held a dedicated horticulture session, the focus of which was labour availability. I was joined by our Board vice-chair, Derek Wilkinson, and chief Horticulture advisor, Lee Abbey for our session, as well as Professor Simon Pearson from Lincoln university, and Sam Zubaidi, from Concordia.
The messages from this session were clear: the UK horticulture sector is highly innovative and productive, but robotic solutions are still some years away so we need a government policy that is fit for purpose to provide us with the workers we need.
Following our conference session, we had a meeting with the Home Office to discuss the issues with the Immigration White Paper and seasonal labour availability. Worryingly, there still appears to be a lack of understanding of our sector from some parts of government on our requirements for both seasonal and permanent labour.
I recently wrote to George Eustice outlining our labour concerns, and also our key asks of government:
- To increase the number of permits from 2,500 to 10,000 in the 2019 Seasonal Workers Scheme pilot to alleviate the current shortages.
- To cap any fees associated with this pilot.
- In a No Deal situation, for the requirement to apply for a Right to Remain to be enforced after 6 or 12 months rather than 3 months as presently proposed. We are concerned that 3 months will be considered too short and will become another reason for EU nationals looking for seasonal work to choose another EU country rather than come to the UK.
- Clear, positive communication is required for the No Deal scenario as soon as possible.
Embedding this within government, and particularly the Home Office, is essential for our industry, and one of the best ways to do this is for you as growers to talk to your MP. I would urge all of you therefore to get in contact with your MP and express the importance of these asks.
I’m delighted that DEFRA have listened for the need for clear communication around the No Deal planning and have produced a leaflet clearly explaining the situation which you can use with your seasonal staff - we’ll share this with you once it’s online. Full guidance on seasonal labour in a No Deal situation can be found here.