The Farming and Rural Issues Group for the South East (FRIGSE) has submitted its views to the Migration Advisory Committee about the need for a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
The full text of the FRIGSE submission in response to the MAC consultation questions is given below
1. What will be the impact of closing SAWS and SBS on your business/sector?
The consequence would be that many agricultural and horticultural businesses would fold because they would be unable to find the workers to grow, pick and process their crops. Farmers, growers and their full time employees would risk losing their livelihoods. The further consequence would be that their produce would be replaced by more imports from overseas, with an adverse impact on the trade deficit. These imports are often more expensive, so there would be an inflationary effect on the price of food and other horticultural products for the British consumer. It would also mean that the ability of the UK land-based sector to increase production as Defra wants, and thus to contribute to food security, would be seriously weakened.
2. What impact was observed by your business/sector when labour market restrictions were lifted on A8 workers with EU accession in 2004?
The impact was significant when restrictions were lifted on A8 workers. Many A8 workers who might otherwise have been available for work on the land appear to have found permanent, and perhaps more congenial, jobs in other sectors of the economy. The result was that in many cases farmers and growers were unable to find the workers they needed, and crops rotted unpicked in the fields or glasshouses, with consequent losses for their businesses and the wider economy.
3. Presently, there are 25.5 million unemployed people within the EU, including 2.5 million unemployed in the UK. Why are there not more UK resident workers employed to do this seasonal work? What efforts have been made by your business/sector to recruit from, and train, the existing UK and EU workforce to meet seasonal labour needs?
Over the years, UK farmers and growers have made extensive efforts to recruit resident workers, not least because in many senses a resident workforce would be easier to manage. And in a time of recession famers and growers recognize the obligation on them to try to help the burden of local unemployment and their national organizations are working with the DWP to this effect. But there is substantial evidence to suggest that previously the results have been poor, both in the numbers who have been successfully recruited and in their quality in terms of commitment and reliability. The latter point would appear to relate to societal and behavioural problems which are beyond the ability of the land-based sector to deal with on its own.
4. Does the benefits system incentivise the UK unemployed to take seasonal work in agriculture, horticulture and food processing? If not, why?
The evidence would suggest that the benefits system is a clear disincentive to the recruitment of unemployed resident workers because of the temporary, rather than permanent nature of the work: with some justification, they fear that if they come off benefits to take a seasonal job, they will then face a significant hiatus in the resumption of their benefits when the job comes to an end.
5. What are the advantages and the limitations of using SAWS/SBS?
SAWS offers employers in the land-based sector the advantages of flexibility in terms of the recruitment and deployment of workers for seasonal tasks. Overseas workers have shown themselves to be more motivated, committed and technically adept than most of the resident workers whom the sector has tried to recruit over the years.
6. What are the advantages, limitations and feasibility of the following options when the current SAWS/SBS come to an end:
i) recruit more UK resident workers
Please see our comments above.
ii) continue to recruit A2 nationals outside of a structured scheme; and iii) recruit more workers from EEA countries;
Farmers and growers, and the recruitment agencies working on their behalf, will undoubtedly be continuing to try to recruit A2 workers outside a structured scheme, as well as workers from existing EEA countries. But based on their experience when A8 workers were able to work freely in other parts of the country, farmers and growers are pessimistic about their ability still to recruit enough labour when A2 workers too are free to move into other parts of the economy, and possibly to get permanent jobs.
iv) use a structured scheme to recruit workers from new accession countries (for example Croatia) or non-EEA countries. Please specify which countries you consider most suitable;
A new structured scheme of this sort would be welcomed by the sector. In addition to Croatia and other new accession countries, but it is important to recognize that some of these countries are relatively affluent and with small populations. Thus, they are unlikely on their own to be a sufficient source of seasonal workers for the UK land-based sector. From outside the EEA and new accession countries, a structured scheme might include workers from Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.
v) use a structured scheme to recruit non-EEA students who are studying outside of the UK. Please specify which countries you consider most suitable;
Again, this would be welcomed by the sector. Students from Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine might be included in such a scheme.
vi) reduce demand for seasonal labour through, for example: mechanisation and investment in infrastructure; moving to permanent employment; changing or diversifying the crop produced; or importing the final product.
Where commercially and technically feasible, farmers and growers have invested significantly in mechanisation and infrastructure for various stages of husbandry, picking and processing. But some crops are not susceptible to mechanization, and labour-intensive methods of handling are then indispensable.
The sector makes use of permanent employment already where this makes commercial sense. But there is a proven need for seasonal workers as well. The nature of the work required would make it uneconomic to employ these people throughout the year.
There would be substantial barriers to diversification to other crops. Not all crops are suitable to all types of land. Farmers and growers will have invested heavily in the plant and infrastructure to grow, harvest and process particular types of crops; so, in many cases, there would be significant switching costs associated with diversification, even it that were locally feasible.
Importing the final product is, of course, feasible, but as argued above there would be an adverse impact on British businesses and local jobs, food security, and the balance of payments. In addition, it is important to recognize that consumers are demanding more local produce and associated systems of traceability; greater reliance on imported produce could run counter to consumer preferences.
7. What is the best mechanism to ensure seasonal workers from abroad return home? Would you be in favour of financial incentives (for example, posting of bonds by the employer and/or worker)?
Past experience has been that there have been few problems about seasonal workers from overseas returning home. It is important to note that, under SAWS, seasonal workers are issued on arrival with a work card. This gives them permission to work for one employer for a fixed period of five weeks up to six months and then return home at the end of their placement.