Labour (Chap 5)

Fruits of Our Labour

Migrant Workers


Agricultural Wages Board (AWB)

Farm Fatalities

They’re Off!

Subsidise Land Workers not Landowners

Labour is at the heart of our food and farm systems, yet largely overlooked in any discussion.

The discontent that drove Brexit emanated from the areas with large monocultures dependent on EU migrant workers - responsible for delivering our food cheaply. To provide a more sustainable food system - both in terms of the environment and health - we have to change the way it is produced - and pay people a living wage to do so.

Numbers of people working on the land are difficult to find. According to new book 'Working the Land' by Nicol Verdon there is a total farm workforce in 2000, of 333,000. More than half were farmers, partners, directors & spouses, while the hired workforce was about 140,000; less than half of these are full time. This fell to a quarter 10 years later i.e it is not just a matter of seasonal working, but increased casualisation. This figure of 333,000 fits nicely with my suggestion to use the £3b+ 'CAP' funding to give each farmer/farmworker £10,000 extra instead of pay landowners.

Clarity on where food & farm labour coming from says "Adapting the current Points Based System applied to skilled non-EU nationals is one possibility but this will only provide sufficient access to middle and lower skilled EU workers if a currently unused part of the system (known as ‘Tier 3’) is implemented. However, this is likely to be prohibitively cumbersome and expensive for most food and drink businesses to navigate. Of far greater benefit would be a separate lighter-touch registration scheme for EU nationals with a focus on those sectors (including food and drink) at greatest risk from labour shortages to address any post-Brexit concerns of continuing ‘uncontrolled migration’, which could surely be designed to restrict entry only to those with a job offer in the UK.

Current reliance on EU labour could lead to catastrophe in Dairy Sector if access denied in short term.

Modern Slavery Act How leading corporations are responding.

OECD says (in 'Addressing Brexit and weak productivity') that food sector has high proportion of low skilled workers on zero hour contracts (p59).

"Unemployed should get on their bikes and find work on a farm with 'gorgeous' European women" says Tory MP. He said he had been misquoted but young people should be more willing to move to find work. Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: "These remarks are as misogynistic as they are ignorant. It seems the spirit of Norman Tebbit is still running the Conservative Party, Maybe Mr Mackinlay should follow his own advice and start picking fruit rather than picking fights."

More UK citizens should work in agriculture. "Food industry executives are calling on the UK government to encourage more young people to pursue vocational training in the agricultural sector, amid concerns surrounding access to labour after Brexit."

Food wants to be free - possible role of IT in food chains. "An IT engineer designing a food supply chain from scratch would start by minimising the resources that needed to be extracted from land under cultivation to provide the end user with a balanced diet...The profit motive, which drives the agri-food sector, is partially responsible for the waste and environmental damage caused by overproduction"

Child Labour in the Food Chain

They're Off

Association of Labour Providers (ALP) survey found only 30 per cent of growers had been able to supply all their retailers' needs in the last three months and 36 per cent did not expect to be able to supply sufficient workers for the Christmas peak.

At least two British growers have already sought to cut ties with UK supermarkets (as they get fined for not meeting orders) in favour of companies elsewhere in Europe, who will provide the labour.

One of the biggest berry producers is cutting several hundred seasonal jobs because of uncertainty over Brexit and their reliance on Eastern European workers. They can carry on another year, but may then have to close altogether. The farm in Herefordshire is increasing production in Yunnan China, but do not see this as 'outsourcing' but responding to increased demand n China.

Agricultural Technology and recruitment - now needs both IT and farm experience.

Not enough workers to plant and harvest Royal Jersey potatoes About 1000 workers are needed on the steep hillsides, but not turning up form Poland anymore, so recruitment from Kenya and Romania is being established. Was this what Brexit was all about in terms of controlling our borders?

Things getting worse " Brexit makes the figures concerning because of the number of EU staff who make up the agricultural workforce. A House of Commons briefing from June 2017 showed [pdf, p5-6] that EU workers accounted for around:

  • 20% of full time agricultural workers.
  • 98% of the seasonal workforce in horticulture.
  • 40% of staff on egg farms and around 50% of staff in egg packing centres.
  • 63% of red and white meat processing industry workers.

The briefing also warned [pdf, p6] that one in five farms and businesses connected to the pig industry would struggle to survive without migrant labour. And as The Farmers Guardian reported on the same day DEFRA released its reports, 56% of dairy farmers employ EU workers.

UK crops left to rot. One Scottish farmer said enough broccoli to feed 15,000 people for a year was wasted. NFU Scotland President said a SAWS like system for 2018 was crucial to provide 'work permits for up to 20,000 workers from outside the EU'. In Bittersweet Brexit, I predicted they would come from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, if previous attempts to replace EU farm labour were anything to go by..we shall see.

Potential 'cliff edge' labour shortage facing dairy farms. RABDF Managing Director said "It is clear there is confusion between seasonal workers in certain food producing sectors compared to the skilled and permanent needs of those in dairy farming". Nearly 20% of all dairy farms employ some foreign workers in their workforce. Consultants Kite said that the supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the industry.

One of the UK’s biggest berry farms is moving part of its operations to China because it claims it can’t find enough workers. However, Unite said the agricultural sector would be able to find domestic labour sources if workers were paid, treated and trained properly, Unite News Online February said the agricultural sector would be able to find domestic labour sources if workers were paid, treated and trained properly...and then quoted Bittersweet Brexit saying we should pay proper Living Wage to 300,000 permanent land workers.

The Shadow rural spokesperson Sue Hayman said If Labour came to power, one of the first three things she wanted to tackle were 'ensuring farm businesses could continue to employ from overseas'. Hmm, but wasn't that what led to Brexit in the first place? Many in these plantation areas will feel cheated that we have gone to all the trouble of leaving the largest Single Market in the world, but the original concerns remain.

Secretary of State Michael Gove says:"Continuing access to temporary and permanent labour had to be at the centre of a special "transition" deal for the industry ..In future, we will need to look further afield than just the EU and we will need to think more creatively. Why did he not mention this during the referendum?

However "the Conservatives have put themselves in a bind. If they do not end free movement with a hard Brexit, they think voters will punish them for betraying them over immigration. So although industry is shouting about a crisis in labour supply, the government is dogmatically refusing to consider any new scheme until we are out of the EU. " Dig deep for fair pay on farms

Don Pollard, NUAAW & TGWU activist, and one of the driving forces behind Jim Sheridan's Gangmasters (Licensing) Act, died aged 80


Cattle handler killed at Gisburn Market by bull..fits farm fatality profile, older farmers at danger from moving animals (and machinery)

Farm worker killed i potato harvester in Lincolnshire.