Source: Parliamentary Recording Unit

Chris Chinn of Cobrey Farms explains why he struggles to recruit seasonal workers post-Brexit

The government should reintroduce a controlled visa work scheme immediately to recruit workers for the agriculture sector, the Commons Efra Committee heard today.

Giving evidence to an investigation into labour constraints in the food sector, representatives from across the food industry called on the government to reintroduce the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme (SAWS), which was axed in 2013, to ensure there was enough labour for the sector as the UK geared up for Brexit.

Labour shortages have already begun in the industry, said director of employment agency Hops Labour Solutions John Hardman, who had 400 posts left unfilled in September 2016.

“We absolutely scraped through for Christmas,” added David Camp, chief executive of the Association of Labour Providers. “The wisdom is that we won’t scrape through this summer. The industry needs a solution and as swiftly as possible.”

The scheme should be expanded to recruit 80,000 workers for the sector, rather than the 20,000 SAWS recruited in 2013, when employers also had access to EU labour, added Asparagus Growers Association chairman Chris Chinn.

“We need labour. The UK market can’t supply that labour,” he added. “The EU labour market is wilting. Even when we were staying in the EU that was becoming a problem. Therefore we need some kind of scheme to bring manual labour to this country.”

“We’re urging the government to implement a scheme immediately as a trial,” he said. “Let us demonstrate that we can manage that scheme as we have done in the past.”

National Pig Association CEO Zoe Davies also called on the government to include non-seasonal and permanent workers in the scheme, as well as promoting agricultural work through schools in the UK.