The British Wool Marketing Board has warned that millions of British sheep could be left unshorn this year because red tape is deterring New Zealand shearing gangs from coming over to the UK.
There are fears that many of the 500 Kiwi shearers needed by the UK sheep industry each summer are already making plans to work elsewhere.
Self-employed New Zealand shearers – who spend around 10 weeks in the UK each summer – have been told they can no longer operate without being registered for PAYE and being allocated a National Insurance number.
UK shearing contractors believe it will take too long to obtain PAYE status for these short-term shearers and that along with the cost involved it will cause shearing gangs to stay away from the UK.
British Wool Marketing Board chairman Frank Langrish, who farms in East Sussex, said he was extremely concerned about the welfare risks to UK flocks if the New Zealand shearers stay away.
“Although our UK-based shearing skills are improving all the time we still need the big gangs of Kiwi shearers to cope with large hill flocks that can number up to several thousand sheep.
“The best Kiwi shearers can clip over 400 sheep a day and are critical to the efficient management of UK flocks.
“If this issue over work permits is not resolved it is the sheep that will suffer. The last thing we want is for sheep to be carrying full fleeces during the summer months.
“If the Kiwi shearers are put off by these employment regulations our UK farmers are heading for a major welfare problem because there just isn’t the skilled manpower here to cope.”
The National Association of Agricultural Contractors has asked for clarification from Work Permits UK over the New Zealand shearers issue.
The NAAC were told: “In summary, work permits are not issued for self-employment and there are no plans to change that policy.
“That being so, if your members wish to continue to bring shearers to the UK who are not EEA nationals, they are going to have to do so on an employer-employee basis and comply with all related UK employment legislation, including the requirement to register with HMRC to pay tax and National Insurance Contributions.”
The issue was covered on Farming Today this morning which you can listen again to.