Farmers at wits’ end over seasonal labour

Industry leaders have slammed the government’s failure to implement a seasonal scheme so overseas workers can help avert a labour shortage on UK farms.

NFU horticulture chairman Ali Capper voiced her frustration after Defra secretary Michael Gove suggested she and other growers write to their MPs to press home the issue.

See also: Farmers face bankruptcy without overseas workers – report

Asked how he planned to have a seasonal agricultural workers scheme in place for next year, Mr Gove said: “I very, very strongly understand the need for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme.”

Ms Capper warned Mr Gove that British farmers and growers face an impending crisis because fewer overseas workers are coming to the UK.

‘Write to MPs’

But Mr Gove suggested the government would introduce such a scheme more rapidly if farmers and growers lobbied other ministers and their departments, as well as Defra.

“Can you please make sure you let your own MP know how important this is,” he said.

Ms Capper told Farmers Weekly Mr Gove’s response was inadequate.

Farmers had been writing and talking to MPs since last year, urging them to implement a seasonal workers scheme to combat a labour shortage on UK farms, she said.

“Being asked to write to my MP isn’t good enough,” said Ms Capper.

There was a lot of acknowledgement from civil servants and MPs that there was a labour shortage in agriculture and other sectors of the economy, said Ms Capper.

However, there was no action from politicians to solve the problem.

“It is going to affect every sector – not just agriculture and horticulture, but all UK business – especially care, health, the construction industry and catering.

“It is going to affect everybody.”

‘Not an immigration issue’

Every other EU country was drawing labour from outside the EU, said Ms Capper. But the UK government had so far refused to do what was needed for the sector.

“We have got to change that – somehow we need to make it more urgent.”

Ms Capper said seasonal labour shouldn’t be seen as an immigration issue because overseas workers came to the UK only for a short time before returning home again.

“It is perceived as a political hot potato. It shouldn’t be. Seasonal labour comes in and goes out again. It doesn’t put pressure on public services, it doesn’t put pressure on housing. It isn’t an immigration issue.”

The NFU would continue lobbying the government until a seasonal workers scheme was introduced – not just for horticulture, but for other agricultural sectors too, said Ms Capper.

Is your farm business being affected by the lack of a seasonal workers scheme? If so, we would like to hear from you. Please email