The NFU is seeking urgent clarity on potential wage increases in the Seasonal Worker Scheme which could be adopted in 2022.
When announcing the extended Seasonal Worker Scheme on 24 December 2021, the Home Office said “the sector will have to improve pay and conditions” and that “changes to the route, which has run since 2019, will force companies to pay those using the route a minimum salary to discourage poor conditions.”
The NFU has been seeking further information on what this means, but details have not been forthcoming.
There are concerns that it will mirror the pork butcher visas which were made available as an emergency measure last autumn and had a minimum wage requirement of £10.10 per hour – in line with the salary requirements under the Skilled Worker Route.
Sharp cost increases
At £10.10, horticulture businesses would be facing wage inflation of 13% against the current National Living Wage (NLW), and still 7% above the new NLW rate which comes into effect in April.
The NFU has already warned of falling production in 2022 of between 9% and 15% due to existing cost pressures, and that this will be exacerbated further if a new minimum wage is set. NFU Horticulture and Potatoes board chairman, Ali Capper, said: “Many businesses will already be in discussions with their customers about cost price increases, but are, as yet, unsighted on this potential wage hike.
"It is critical that we get clarity as soon as possible from government and that we understand the justification for such a proposal. Seasonal workers are very different to pork butchers which can already be recruited through the skilled worker route.
"With falling numbers of EU Settled Status workers coming to work on UK farms, and with domestic recruitment continuing to be incredibly challenging, the Seasonal Worker Scheme is increasingly the main source of our seasonal labour.
"Adopting a new minimum wage, over and above the existing National Living Wage, will make little difference to this labour profile but will increase inflationary pressures further and reduce UK production of fruit, veg, plants and flowers.”