The Efra Commission denounces the government’s response to the agricultural labor crisis | News
The government has been accused of ‘not grasping’ the labor issues facing the food and agriculture sectors and warned that without a radical change in policy, food production in the Kingdom -United is in danger.
A damning report on the food labor crisis – released today (6 April) by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – concluded that ministers had been too slow to act on widespread warnings of labor shortages caused by Brexit and the pandemic. And they had not demonstrated a “good understanding” of these issues either, noted the Efra deputies.
In urging the government to “rethink radically to prevent future interventions from coming too late”, they particularly criticized Kevin Foster, the Home Secretary in charge of safe and legal migration – who had drawn the ire of the President of the Neil Parish committee during a testimony session. for his investigation in December.
There had been “an unwelcome tendency by the government to blame the sector for not doing more to address the problem or for making full use of the immigration system – sometimes on the basis of incorrect information”, the all-party committee said.
And Foster represented “the most serious example”, when he suggested that “labour shortages in pork production did not seem to be a real problem” because a single large processor of Pork had applied for a license to sponsor skilled worker visa applicants.
Foster had told the committee in mid-December that fewer “than 100 applications” had been made for the 800 pork butcher visas, before adding that it was “safe to say we weren’t rushed with requests”.
But his comments were met with a scathing response from the committee, which noted that many food industry representatives had pointed out that the visa had been “too little too late”. The committee then quoted the Provision Trade Federation, which warned that the low utilization of available visas in the time available “should not be taken as indicating a lack of need, merely the practical difficulties of putting such arrangements in place so close.” of Christmas. ”.
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This was also the case for the government’s “seriously flawed” short-term temporary visa schemes for poultry workers and truck drivers, the report adds.
They had been “implemented too late, with many workers unable to arrive in time to help the sector prepare for Christmas and prevent poultry companies from reducing production”, he said.
Moreover, they were “unattractive because of the short notice and very limited periods during which workers were allowed to work in the UK”, and therefore the committee was “not surprised therefore that the number number of successful candidates is well below the number of visas available”.
Given that a report by Grant Thornton last August estimated job vacancies in the food sector at 500,000 out of a total of 4.1 million jobs, the committee added that there was “clear evidence that Labor shortages have severely affected the food and agriculture industry – threatening food safety, animal welfare and the mental health of those working in the sector”.
This was further reinforced by testimony from food industry groups throughout the year, MPs said, as they criticized ministers for ‘waiting for the data’ before taking action.
“The whole of government needs a step change in how it engages with industry, taking the concerns they raise seriously and acting quickly,” the report urged.
“As a first step towards achieving this, we recommend that the Food Industry Resilience Forum meet at least once a month throughout 2022 and 2023, that a senior Home Office official attend. and that the government publish the minutes of its meetings within fifteen days. ”
Revised immigration measures could also resolve the current crisis, the commission added.
Producers predict further labor shortages in 2022
One example involved a review of the Skilled Worker Visa Program “including the complexity and costs faced by employers and tailoring the English language requirement to meet the needs of the sector”.
And while there were ‘welcome changes’ to the pilot scheme for seasonal workers, the inclusion of the ornamental sector meant the government now had to make available the additional 10,000 visas it had previously reserved and for that the program become permanent, he insisted.
“In 2021, farmers faced an extraordinary situation – crops were left to rot in the fields and healthy pigs were slaughtered due to a lack of workers,” said Neil Parish.
“This has serious implications for the well-being of the people who put food on our tables now and in the future,” he added. “The government’s attitude to the plight of food and agriculture workers has been particularly disappointing.
“Although some of the reforms proposed by the government have been helpful in the short term, and we have agreed that we must seek to increase the national workforce, this will not happen overnight. In the meantime, it must use the powers available – including on immigration policy – to support the sector. Otherwise, we will export our food production and import more of our food.