NFU calls for immediate action following labour review

NFU calls for immediate action following labour review

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has responded to Defra’s launch of an independent review into labour shortages within the food supply chain, highlighting the importance of immediate action to alleviate workforce pressures.

NFU vice president, Tom Bradshaw.

Defra announced that John Shropshire will chair an independent review into the recent labour shortages in the food supply chain. Former CEO of major horticulture producer G’s Fresh Group, Shropshire will be supported by a panel that draws in expertise from across the farming, fisheries, processing and manufacturing aspects of the supply chain.

As set out in the ​Government Food Strategy, the government said it recognises that the sector “cannot sustainably rely on migrant labour, especially in light of global pressures elsewhere.” The ​independent review, Defra said, will consider the challenges facing food and farming businesses to recruit and retain the labour they require and will provide recommendations for industry and government to consider.

The review will encompass the roles of automation, domestic employment and migration routes. The final report is expected to be published in 2023 ​and the government response will follow.

A key issue

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Whilst labour shortages are affecting countries around the world, we have already boosted the number of visas available through the seasonal workers route to 40,000 and extended it to include poultry and ornamental horticulture, and we are working to encourage people to take up jobs in the sector.

“Labour is a key issue for British farmers and farming and this report will give the government vital insight into how to address it in future.”

The government said that it encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology. It added that Defra is working with industry and the Department of Work and Pensions to raise awareness of career opportunities within the food and drink sector among UK workers.

NFU response

NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said that the trade body has long highlighted the impacts of workforce pressures across the food and farming sector, so the review is much needed.

He said: “We hope it will act as a catalyst for government to take action to ensure the food supply chain has the workforce it needs to continue producing, picking, packing and processing high quality, affordable and sustainable food for the nation.

“While there must be a focus on long term workforce requirements and business resilience in the future, including things like boosting domestic recruitment and automation, farmers and growers are seriously concerned about how they will get the workforce they need right now. This review cannot overlook the immediate and pressing issues the food supply chain is facing as we speak.”

Bradshaw added that it was important that the government no longer delays commissioning the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the Shortage Occupation List.

He explained: “This [review] will look at jobs where there is a shortage of suitable workers in the UK and where it is sensible to fill those shortages with migrant workers, so will play a big role in determining job shortages across the food supply chain.”

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