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NPA urges Government to shift focus to permanent EU labour supply

30th Jan 2018 / By Alistair Driver

Any post-Brexit scheme to ensure a future supply of migrant labour in agriculture must encourage full-time workers to come and live in the UK, the NPA has told MPs.

parishIn its submission to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee’s (chairman Neil Parish pictured right) inquiry into agricultural labour shortages, the NPA insists future policies must not be restricted to short-term seasonal work, as previous schemes have been.

The full submission can be viewed here

Giving its response added context, the association outlined the findings of its EU labour survey, which, carried out in the autumn, found that over half (55%) of the pig businesses surveyed employed non-UK workers, with European nationals accounting for 94% of all migrant labour.

NPA survey graph 2The survey also found that 64% of those employing EU labour were finding it harder to find EU labour since the vote, with nearly half revealing that EU workers they employed were considering leaving the UK due to uncertainty over Brexit. Nearly one in three said at least one worker had already left since the Brexit vote due to changing circumstances. 

The NPA response also included comments left by members who took part in the survey, which reinforced why this is such an important issue to the pig sector. Some of those comments can be viewed below. 

The key message was that, as we prepare to leave the EU, the Government must look beyond seasonal agriculture workers schemes as the solution to any shortfall in EU workers.

"Whilst many businesses in the pig supply chain such as abattoirs, hauliers and processors do require seasonal labour, the vast majority of NPA members require permanent labour," the document states.

"Pig production is continuous, not seasonal, and good stockmanship requires an individual’s ongoing interaction with a pig herd and their intuition over the animals they are caring for. Because the majority of roles tend to be permanent, it means that individuals working on pig farms have to think seriously about their employment future, and opportunities for their family, as opposed to seasonal labour which provides greater flexibility.

"In the NPA’s survey, 90% of businesses who had migrant workers reported that they were employed on a permanent basis."  

Possible solutions

The submissiom outlined a raft of possible solutions to what is a looming crisis for the pig sector, also including:

  • Any future scheme set up to ensure the future supply of migrant labour must encourage full-time workers to come and live in the UK, rather than focus purely on short-term seasonal work, as previous schemes have.
  • Giving due priority in future immigration policy to so-called ‘unskilled workers’ i.e. those not educated to degree level, on which the pig industry relies.
  • Ensuring Europeans wanting to work in the UK are not prevented from doing so by Visa delays or complicated processes.
  • Reinstating tier 3 of the immigration points based system to allow ‘low-skilled’ workers to come in as a short term solution to specific temporary labour shortages.
  • Industry will commit to working with government to source more domestic labour as a potential solution if help can be provided to facilitate access to EU labour in the short term. 
  • Government should focus efforts and funding on encouraging new entrants into agriculture via apprenticeships to ensure the succession of a future workforce. 

The document also warns against assuming the solution to the shortfall in labour is to invest in automation and technology based solutions. "Whilst there are certain parts of pig businesses that would benefit from such technologies, it is by no means a panacea for all labour concerns," the document states.

"Good animal husbandry, and good welfare standards rely on individual decision making and intuition. For the outdoor pig sector, such automated processes would be extremely limited, given the very different approach to keeping pigs."

Selected comments from respondents in NPA labour survey:

  • Less EU nationals are looking for jobs here. In addition, our existing workers are seeking reassurance that they will be able to stay here.
  • [Our workers].. are uncertain as to whether they will be able to remain here after Brexit. All want to remain here.
  • As sourcing native labour has become more difficult, migrant labour has become the "go to" option due to both availability and quality
  • Not only are there less EU applicants but now also more available posts. I am considering reducing my business as a consequence
  • Decent labour is ever increasingly hard to find…The biggest challenge facing the industry is the shortage of labour.
  • Having tried for many years to recruit suitable labour locally it now seems impossible to have the size and type of business we have without migrant labour.