New seasonal worker visas introduced in labour crisis

The government has agreed to introduce 10,000 new farming visas.

The Environment Secretary George Eustice has unveiled a new route for 10,000 farming workers to come to the UK following pressure from the UK Trade and Business Commission.

After reports that fruit and vegetables are going unpicked and warnings of a food waste crisis, the government has confirmed that 8,000 fruit and vegetable pickers and 2,000 poultry workers will be given a new visa route for seasonal work.

In May a delegation from the UK Trade and Business Commission visited Winterwood Farms in Maidstone who told of an 8 per cent drop in crops harvested in 2021 because of fewer EU seasonal workers. As a result, they claimed that fewer home-grown British produce is ending up on British shelves and are being replaced by more expensive, less fresh imports.

In response to the visit, commissioners wrote to Eustice and Home Secretary Priti Patel to raise concerns around investment in domestic food production, the UK’s food security and food waste during a cost of living crisis.

Their letters called for the implementation of a similar scheme for seasonal workers to those which the government announced in October 2021 for HGV drivers and poultry workers. Co-convener of the Commission, Hilary Benn also raised the issue in the House of Commons.

After welcoming the move, members of the cross-party, cross-industry group have today called on the government to go further, claiming that a ‘piecemeal’ approach will be insufficient in addressing the UK's workforce challenges.

With labour issues not limited to farming and with the travel and hospitality sectors also coping with acute shortages, commissioners have called for a more considered and comprehensive strategy to address these issues which businesses have experienced since the implementation of the government’s Brexit deal.

Caroline Lucas MP, Member of the UK Trade and Business Commission, said: "It is right that the government has at last recognised the issue, but farming is not the only sector suffering from labour shortages and piecemeal interventions will be insufficient in meeting the workforce challenges created by their punitive approach to immigration.

“Instead of reacting when the issue is already bordering on crisis, ministers must be proactive and build on this welcome intervention by introducing a comprehensive, flexible, long-term and cross-sector immigration policy, since under this government’s hard Brexit deal, fruit pickers will not be the last labour shortage we face.”

The UK Trade and Business Commission was launched in April 2021 to provide independent scrutiny of the UK’s trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world. It brings together ten MPs from all nine Westminster parties and all four nations of the UK, along with business leaders and expert economists.

Source: South West Farmer