The Home Office has provided clarity on wage increases for seasonal workers recruited within this year’s Seasonal Worker Scheme for horticultural growers, confirming a minimum wage rate of £10.10/hour.
The government extended the Seasonal Worker Scheme in December to make 30,000-40,000 six-month visas available for the horticulture sector.
But it also warned that the sector would need to improve pay and conditions as part of post-Brexit plans to reduce the reliance on migrant workers.
The Home Office has now confirmed that, from 6 April, visas will only be granted to workers through the Seasonal Worker Scheme if they are paid the minimum £10.10/hour, equivalent to a minimum salary of £26,500/year.
The rules do not cover workers who have already secured a visa ahead of 6 April or those recruited outside of the scheme. This clears up the confusion surrounding wage rates for workers employed under the scheme.
Guidance provided by the Home Office to labour providers ahead of the NFU Conference last month had indicated that minimum wage requirements could be as high £12.31/hour. But Defra secretary George Eustice insisted at the time that there had been an error in the guidance – and he reassured delegates that wages would remain at £10.10/hour. Responding to the confirmation, NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “There was significant confusion and frustration from growers about the wage requirements for workers recruited under the Seasonal Worker Scheme, and urgent clarity was needed from government.
“While the guidance has, rightly, been amended, these requirements still represent an unexpected 6.5% increase above the new National Living Wage.”
NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Martin Emmett raised concerns about the lack of notice for growers about these changes and the effect ongoing inflation could have on growers.
He said: “Growers have only been notified of these changes three weeks before they come into force and businesses across the country will be working hard to understand how it can be implemented and how these additional costs can be managed.
“With growers now heading into their busiest months of the year, we will continue to monitor the labour market.
We’ll assess the fallout from the Ukraine war on the labour market, particularly as Ukrainians accounted for 60% of workers recruited under the Seasonal Worker Scheme last year.
“We have been reassured by labour providers that they will be able to recruit and fill all 40,000 visas available under the scheme.”
Pro-Force, one of four companies sourcing labour provision for the horticulture sector, has 10,000 visas to fill for the sector this year.
A spokesman said it would look to source seasonal workers from other countries if it experienced a shortfall in workers coming from Ukraine.
However, demand from Ukrainian workers to come to the UK under the scheme remains high, he said. The direction of policy change means there are clear opportunities for farmers to reap financial rewards from public access.
Public access can be provided by a landowner as a community benefit or it can be granted under a scheme such as Countryside Stewardship.
Some landowners are also cashing in on the surge in dog ownership, letting out whole fields specifically for dog walkers.