Seasonal workers - we need you

What will the impact of leaving the European Union have for those businesses reliant on migrant workers from Europe?  Emma Coke looks at the issues surrounding what could be a scarcity of labour.

The agricultural and horticultural industries are very labour intensive and dependent on seasonal workers.  Across all sectors, EU-born workers account for just 5% of the country’s workforce but in these industries its 65% - excluding seasonal workers according to the office for national statistics.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme was implemented after World War II to help restore land and buildings in the UK and in 1973 it was adapted to allow access to a pool of workers from non EC countries.  The scheme was terminated in 2013 when the last of the eastern European countries, the main suppliers of seasonal labour, joined the EU because a much larger than expected migration of seasonal workers provided a ready supply of labour.

However, Britain’s exit from the EU will alter its access to this ready market and steps must be taken to ensure a supply of labour is available to service those industries heavily reliant on it. 

Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this year, Andrea Leadsom acknowledged the importance of EU seasonal labour to these sectors and indicated that the Government would seek to allow farmers to recruit from the EU post Brexit.  She also told farmers to invest in machinery to boost productivity and that there were ‘large numbers of farmers that are yet to seize these opportunities.’

The NFU has been pushing to secure more labour through the trialling of a fixed term work permit scheme for seasonal workers, targeting non EU nationals during 2017.  However, this has been rejected for 2017 by Immigration minister Robert Goodwill who states that reports of a UK farm labour shortage following the vote to leave the EU were not supported by the statistics.  The Government will, said Robert Goodwill, keep the situation under review.

One of the barriers to any replacement scheme will be ensuring that seasonal workers do not acquire long term rights to remain in the UK.  A work permit scheme allows this restriction and used to be in operation prior to the free movement of workers throughout Europe.

Emma will be pleased to talk to you about any of the legal issues that affect your rural business. 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.