AIMS ‘disappointed’ as meat sector roles missed off Shortage Occupation List additions
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said it was “disappointed” that the Migration Advisory Committee have made the decision to not recommend butchers or poultry dressers be added to the Shortage Occupation List.
The completed 2023 review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) has been published by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), accompanied by a letter addressed to Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Within the letter, MAC recommended that the SOL is abolished all together.
Currently, SOL details occupations where employers face a shortage of suitable labour and where it is sensible to fill those shortages with migrant workers. Occupations on the list are given certain exemptions from the immigration rules as a way to make it easier for employers to access migrant labour to fill vacancies in those areas of identified shortage.
While eight occupations were added to the SOL, farmers were identified as one of the occupations that the MAC would need to see further evidence for in order to consider putting it on the List.
The MAC said: “We suggest stakeholders could strengthen the case for being added to the SOL in future reviews by providing further evidence on the long-term strategy to address training and wages in this occupation.”
It put forward the title of “fishing boat masters” as a recommended addition, but no other food or farming roles are to be added to SOL.
Talks of SOL abolition as risk of exploitation is “prevalent”
In the 2023 review, which was published on 3rd October, the MAC suggested SOL is abolished. It stressed that “if the Government opposes allowing low-wage employers to pay below the general threshold for the SW route, then the MAC recommends it should either abolish the SOL or heavily reform it to address this issue.”
The exploitation of low-wage workers was an area of focus within this review, as the Committee stated under current legislation employers have the option to pay migrant workers less than the binding general salary threshold (£26,200).
A concern of the Committee’s was that using SOL to recruit low-wage workers increases the risk of exploitation by “unscrupulous employers.”
It suggested that employers may want to seek alternative assistance from the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS), and proposed the Government considers renaming SOL to the Immigration Salary Discount List (ISDL).
In a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick, chair of the MAC Professor Brian Bell wrote: “We have recommended eight additions to the UK-wide SOL and a further two additions to the Scotland-only SOL. We acknowledge that we have recommended relatively few occupations for inclusion on the SOL despite the labour market remaining tight and much evidence of shortage across the economy.
“We were also concerned about the risk of exploitation of workers in many of these roles. In our view, low-wage employment is where the most serious exploitation of workers occurs, and this risk is heightened for migrants on the SW route given their reliance on being employed by a sponsoring firm to remain in the UK.
“The risk of exploitation in low-wage jobs, the likelihood that low-wage migrants will lead to a net fiscal cost for the UK, and the administrative burden the SW route places upon low-wage employers, mean that we are not convinced the SOL provides a sensible immigration solution to shortage issues in low wage sectors and so we recommend that it should be abolished going forward.
“If the Government wishes to retain the SOL as it currently is, we plan to launch our next (minor) review of the SOL in Spring 2024.”
Frustration over recommended occupations
Tony Goodger, spokesperson for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said: “AIMS are disappointed that the Migration Advisory Committee have made the decision to not recommend butchers or poultry dressers be added to the Shortage Occupation List.
“We are concerned that within their recommendation they see the role of butchers as jobs with ‘poor working conditions, low pay and unsociable hours’ and that they expressed concerns that ‘including the occupation on the SOL would simply embed these poor conditions further.'”
Goodger continued: “Their recommendation to not add poultry dressers to the SOL is based on a view that they are ‘unconvinced that employers in the occupation have done enough to overcome challenges in attracting workers from the domestic population.’
“We refute these assertions and point to the often rural location of these businesses, many of which are based in areas of very low unemployment. Furthermore that the lack of a T-Level in food manufacturing, the country’s largest manufacturing sector possibly acts as a barrier to some when thinking about the meat industry as a career.
“AIMS recently wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asking that Asylum seekers be permitted to work in our industry and are pleased to see that MAC have recommended that, ‘if granted the right to work, asylum seekers should be able to work in any job.'”