In his political address on the first day of NFU Conference, Mark Spencer referred to the government’s recent confirmation that 45,000 visas would be made available for growers this year “with the possibility of 10,000 more, if we can show they’re needed”.
“If we are able to look after those people properly while they’re here, give them a minimum of 32 hours of work every week, and I am pleased to confirm today that we will pay them at least the national living wage from 1 April, this year,” he continued.
The announcement follows months of extensive NFU lobbying set against a backdrop of major inflationary and input cost pressures for the horticulture sector.
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw described the decision as having provided “great relief” to growers, with labour being “one of the highest costs associated with producing fruit and vegetables”.
“The announcement is a great relief to the horticulture sector – growers need confidence to continue producing food for the nation."
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw
“Looking after the people that come to work in our horticultural businesses is absolutely crucial and the additional guarantee of a minimum 32 hours per week will help give them confidence to travel to the UK,” Tom noted.
Growers need confidence
Introduced in April 2022, a 60p per hour wage increase was included as part of the SWS (Seasonal Worker Scheme) which left growers facing a 13.5% year-on-year wage inflation.
The NFU raised concerns during 2022 around the lack of clarity surrounding the wage increase and the short notice of the changes, giving growers only weeks to adapt during a time when the sector was, and still is, facing unprecedented challenges.
“Growers need confidence to continue producing food for the nation”, Tom said. “We worked with government to provide evidence to demonstrate the impact further wage inflation in 2023 would have on the decline of domestic horticulture production.”
While the NFU welcomes the announcement that the seasonal worker scheme wage will revert to the NWL, Tom warned that “there remain a number of aspects of the scheme that can be improved, not least the length of the scheme which currently only has two more seasons to run, but growers will at least have some certainty for the year ahead”.