With Brexit, also came the end of freedom of movement from Europe for EU and non-EU workers, leaving UK farmers wondering how they were going to recruit enough seasonal workers to help harvest the tonnes of fruit and vegetables growing in their fields, says Ross Pierrepont, an employment law specialist at Tallents Solicitors.
British farmers have traditionally relied upon casual or temporary labour to pick their crops throughout the year, often comprising UK, EU and non-EU workers. Launched originally in 2019, the Seasonal Workers Pilot provided visas to 2,500 seasonal migrant workers to allow them to work on UK farms for up to six months; this rose to 10,000 visas in 2020.
But with Brexit, the end of freedom of movement and the introduction of a new points-based immigration scheme for hiring workers from the EU meant that for non-skilled roles, such as seasonal picking and packing, workers should be hired from the UK.
The potential lack of seasonal workers post-Brexit was especially worrying for farmers since the heavily advertised ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign launched in the summer of 2020 during the first lockdown only attracted around 8,000 local people, representing approximately 11% of the total estimated workforce of pickers and packers needed.
Farmers welcome extension to Seasonal Workers Pilot in 2021
However, the government has recognised that it is vitally important for Britain to be able to grow and pick its own produce so they have extended the Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2021 making 30,000 visas available which will enable the recruitment of overseas workers to supplement domestic UK labour. This means three times as many agricultural workers will be allowed into the UK to work on farms compared to 2020.
From 2021 the new immigration system will also mean only EU workers with Settled Status may take up or travel to the UK for up to six months for seasonal roles on farms graded below skill level RQF 3 (A-Levels).
The government hopes that this temporary extension to the Seasonal Workers Pilot will allow the agricultural and horticultural industries to not only pick and pack this year’s harvest, but it will also help them to begin to transition towards less reliance in the future on low skilled overseas workers and instead recruit a motivated domestic workforce.
Farmers are being urged to ensure that the hiring of any seasonal workers from outside the UK is done in line with UK immigration rules to check the workers have the legal right to work in the UK, and that they are adhering to the current employment law to avoid attracting a fine. All workers are entitled to at least the National Minimum wage and also receive statutory minimum terms of employment.
Our employment law specialists at Tallents Solicitors are here to help farmers and landowners who are in need of clear legal employment law or agricultural law advice. You can call our Newark office on 01636 671881 or our Southwell office on 01636 813411 to make a confidential appointment.