Author: Gordon Davidson
TO THE disappointment of Scottish farmers and growers, Westminster’s latest review of ‘shortage’ occupations has decided against encouraging more migrant farm labour to come to the UK.
Since last summer’s problematic fruit and veg harvest, when the Brexit-driven retreat of seasonal workers from the EU left a substantial number of crops unpicked, farmers representatives have been arguing hard for agricultural labour to be included in the Home Office’s list of favoured economic immigrants.
But the Migration Advisory Committee’s latest review into that shortage occupation list dodged the issue, and received a luke-warm welcome from the National Farmers Union Scotland, which noted that although the agri-sector’s concerns were mentioned, there were no practical moves to resolve them.
In its own evidence to the MAC, and in meetings with Home Office Officials and the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, NFUS has highlighted the many agricultural, haulage and food chain jobs where there are shortages of UK applicants and non-UK staff are essential. Its view, shared by the other UK farming unions and food chain organisations, is that the MAC’s exclusion of essential agricultural roles is ‘misguided’ and misrepresents the strong need for a non-UK workforce in the sector.
Union president Andrew McCornick said: “This report does nothing to address existing or future post-Brexit labour requirements across a whole host of jobs and industries.
“That is hugely frustrating and disappointing. The Government needs to recognise that the MAC is failing to provide the advice needed to resolve the issue of shortages of vital workers that cannot be solved by just increasing wages. All advanced economies are faced by similar issues and allow migration to fill such jobs. The MAC seems to think that the UK is different and that our industry is immune to real world pressures, including competition from other countries.”
Mr McCornick called for the opening of Tier 3 – a permit category that was created for lower-skilled temporary workers to come to the UK to fill a specific job shortage, but which has yet to be activated.
“We also desperately need the Shortage Occupation List to allow us to fill gaps in our labour market in those positions where the salary level is below £30,000 per year,” he said. “The MAC notes that the Government White Paper refers to circumstances where there should be flexibility to allow migration at lower salary levels, but the MAC has not made any recommendation to reduce the £30,000 minimum. And although the report has a section on lower skilled workers, it makes no recommendations relating to them.
“A change of direction is badly needed at the highest level and we hope to meet with a senior ministerial figure on farm in the next few weeks to outline just what Scottish food and farming wants to emerge from the UK Government’s White Paper proposals for the future of the immigration system in the UK.
“The only occupation added to the SOL that we referred to in our submission is the veterinary profession and that, from both a veterinary service and food hygiene perspective, is welcome,” conceded Mr McCornick.
For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday’s issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk